Avans University of Applied Sciences is one of several dozens of its kind in the Netherlands. These are meant to give hands-on education for students with practical rather than theoretical careers in mind. Local companies cooperate closely in their science, technology and economics education, thus lending an important twist of practice to the curriculum.

Avans is situated in western Brabant, an area with major biobased industries and harbors. It is one of the main European production areas of wet crops like sugar beet and potato. It is directly adjacent to Flanders, where Ghent University is one of the leading European development centres of biobased technologies. Recently Avans, like many of its colleagues, has started a new Centre of Expertise in Biobased Economy, intending to invest heavily in this new field. This knowledge centre will build on major investments of the province of Northern Brabant and some 25 local companies, including branches of international corporations like Sabic and Cargill, in the biobased economy. A course in Biobased TeCh (as a variant of Chemical Technology and Chemistry), integrating technical and economic sciences, will start in fall 2012.

Fill the gap between SME’s and research
Two newly appointed professors are co-financed by local businesses, Rubia Natural Colours and Royal Cosun. Dorien Derksen is appointed to do research in biobased products and Johan Raap in biobased energy. Many appointments like these are made in Universities of Applied Sciences these days, and that is important because such chairs fill the gap between SME’s and research. SME’s are quickly catching up, especially in the field of biobased polymers. Recently, Sabic and partners including Avans opened a Green Chemistry Campus for open chemical innovation, intended to help SME’s develop new biobased products and technologies.

Says Jan Venselaar, professor in sustainable business development: ‘The biobased economy is quite new and its ramifications will have to be explored. We take part in many regional and local projects intended to optimize biomass use. More integrated approaches are needed here. At present many projects are too small in scope and not flexible enough, using a single resource base and a single reaction technology, e.g. biogas production. For this, Avans and Dutch and Belgian partners work on case studies, showing the potential for economic and environmental improvement by a more diversified resource base and enhanced flexibility in output.’

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