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Interview with Marnix van Gurp, Managing Director

Brightlands Materials Center builds reputation

In 2015, the Province of Limburg, research institute TNO and several other partners decided to invest 45 million Euros in Brightlands Materials Center (BMC). After a brief residency in a modest corner at the lab at the Chemelot Campus in Geleen, BMC has since grown to become a mature laboratory with advanced equipment and over 30 specialists. “We are the link between ideas and concrete products, between science and business.”

Brightlands Materials Center builds reputation

This past spring, Brightlands Materials Center held its first Partner Event. The location was the Auditorium at Center Court at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen. Offering five times the amount of space they initially had, the new BMC labs were proudly shown to the visitors at the end of the day. Attendance at the event was high, to the great satisfaction of Managing Director Marnix van Gurp.

Hot item

“The development of new, sustainable materials is a hot item worldwide. Large and small companies have ideas and are eager to test them in practice. Investments in equipment and other facilities can be an obstacle, and also hiring specialized knowledge workers is often a bridge too far. At BMC, we have state-of-the-art research and development facilities and the corresponding know-how. After the initial launching customers such as DSM and Kriya Materials set up shop here at the Campus, more and more requests are coming in from farther away. Slowly but surely, Brightlands is gaining in notoriety. We offer research laboratories, pilot plants and research institutes such as BMC. All of the permits are arranged here, it is teeming with startups and established companies, and students are working on concrete projects at CHILL, universities, higher schools of secondary education and other educational centers. This makes it the perfect place for SMEs to bring their innovations to life.”

Composites

BMC is fully focused on the research and development of new, sustainable technology related to plastics and their applications. These may be traditional polymers based on petroleum, but also might just as easily incorporate plant-based raw materials. “These include lightweight materials for the automotive industry, materials that are suitable for 3D printing and coatings for optical applications. The integration of sensors and other electronic components in plastic spare parts is also a hot topic. We specialize in thermoplastic composites for the automotive industry that are light, strong and recyclable. It’s a major quest since the material has to be strong and sustainable yet cannot be too expensive.”

Coating

Marnix van Gurp has another great example for us. “We are collaborating with several companies to develop a coating that can reflect heat or in some cases, allow it to pass through. During the winter, the coating allows heat through, and in the summer, the infrared light is reflected. There are applications in housing construction, but also for cars. Tests using small glass plates have already been successful. In the future, panels will be built that will be tested in the houses at the Wijk van Morgen facility in Heerlen. The coating makes major savings on heating and air-conditioning costs possible. This effect is even greater if we can spray the coating on the walls of houses. We are researching nano-coatings that are designed to improve the effectiveness of solar panels. Ultimately, we want to contribute to houses that are able to generate energy instead of just consuming it. We’re not there yet. It is a very promising development however.”

Tissue

This also applies to a completely different branch of the sector: tissue made from biological material that may be used to replace heart or kidney tissue. “New cells can grow on this product, ultimately contributing to the repair of organs. The tissue then dissolves on its own. In this research project, we are working closely with Maastricht University which specializes in tissue growth using biological materials. This is yet another major advantage of Brightlands: all of the disciplines are connected to one another. This is what makes this campus so unique.”

Sustainable

BMC has a clear focus on new sustainable materials. This makes the center interesting on a worldwide level, as evidenced by the nearly 40 companies and organizations that have concluded an official partnership with BMC. “We have researchers working for us that collaborate with PhD students to study and test everything down to the molecular level. There are no limitations. Every request is evaluated, no matter how big or small. We work closely with other institutes and parties on the Campus. We’re interested in finding solutions. Our partners have access to the results, and can either start a business based on these or build educational programs around them.”

This approach attracts specialists from every corner of the world. Marnix van Gurp: “We have people of seven different nationalities working for us. At the beginning of the year, we had eight job openings, five of which have now been filled. We have a very careful selection process, and demand that our people are entrepreneurial and have the will to innovate. You also have to be able to handle disappointment. Not every idea turns out to be feasible in practice. This is not a problem, even for the SMEs that approach us with projects. We actually bear all the risks, and invest in equipment and knowledge. Our role is to connect parties and to transform ideas into concrete products.”

Growth

BMC hopes to grow even more in the coming years. “Definitely. In principle, we are still in the start-up phase. We have to become even more well-known, and work harder on building our reputation, regionally but also internationally. We also want to become a platform of companies that all work hard on new material solutions. Sharing and exchanging knowledge is vital to this. This all takes time, but we are making major progress.”