Marnix van Gurp looks back at 7 years of Brightlands Materials Center

Marnix van Gurp looks back at 7 years of Brightlands Materials Center

May 10, 2022

Managing Director Marnix van Gurp has resigned from his position at Brightlands Materials Center as of May 1st 2022. For years he has, together with Peter Wolfs, given shape to Brightlands Materials Center, to what it is and what it stands for today. We have taken some time to look back and reflect together at the past years at Brightlands Materials Center. But also to look forward to the future.

Van Gurp: “I feel so proud and privileged to have worked at Brightlands Materials Center for more than 7 years! Reflecting a little on the past years makes me realize how much has happened, but also how many challenges are still in front of us.”

From ideas to reality

Back in 2013, the Province of Limburg had decided to invest in Brightlands Chemelot Campus to stimulate economic growth and to develop an entrepreneurial and innovative climate. Knowledge centers would be an indispensable core of such activities. At that point in time a number of initiating parties worked out a high level plan to develop a materials center with expertise of polymeric materials. Van Gurp had worked quite some time for DSM in the industry of engineering plastics within Europe. Polymer materials or plastics are found in many applications, and he knew the products and the markets well. Bert Kip, CEO of the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, and Van Gurp, looking for a new job, met and a start was made by Van Gurp as Program Manager to develop a business plan to set up a Materials Center at the Campus.

“I remember those first years were quite turbulent. The consortium of initiating parties broke up, and at the same time TNO stepped in as an interested party. Together with the management of Brightlands Chemelot Campus, representing the Province of Limburg, we started building the center based on a shared ambition. In March 2015 a business plan was written, a memorandum of understanding contract was signed, and a business model was established.

The TEFAF Symposium was the starting point of the new innovation center now called Brightlands Materials Center. After a first year of exploration, a first tiny lab was opened early 2016. “TNO comes to Limburg” were newspaper headlines. Since then the center started to steadily grow over the years.”

Sustainability as a license to operate

Brightlands Materials Center now has three solid programs. The themes of Brightlands Materials Centers’ research programs address major societal challenges such as sustainable buildings, sustainable mobility, and circular packaging.

Van Gurp: “I have always cared about the future of our planet and I have recognized the importance of sustainability in the development of our Campus from the start. The chemical industry and sustainability seem to be as water and oil. However, plastics play an incredibly important role in our society today. Many examples exist in which plastics are very important for sustainability. However, we have to improve our technologies to better serve the future needs of our society. The only route to follow is that of sustainability: a world that will be available for our children and grandchildren to live in harmony with others and with our nature. Looking at the detrimental consequences of plastic waste ending up in nature I feel this is the major challenge and responsibility to solve.”

What’s in a name

Reflecting the start, Van Gurp thinks about all possible names the center could have gotten.
“I really wanted to call it ‘Debye Center’, named after the Dutch Nobel prize winning physicist and early polymer scientist Peter Debye. I really admire his work, his connection of various disciplines, bridging the gap between academia and industry. However, it was a sensitive issue due to his work in Berlin during Nazi times. Finally, it became Brightlands Materials Center to match its destination on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus. A good choice. I did not want it to be abbreviated, but practice is unruly. Nowadays, we often talk about BMC.”

Impact and future

The first years were risky, Van Gurp says. “We invested only carefully in equipment, but at the same time we needed to have infrastructure to convince customers about our capabilities. We also invested in marketing communications for brand awareness, but at the same time for our own engagement.” The company now has 1200 m2 of office and lab space, more than 100 partners, and a staff consisting of 34 people: all highly motivated, young and culturally diverse and customer oriented.

Van Gurp: “I am tremendously proud. One does not easily build an R&D center in a short time. It has been my mission from the start to build it to stay. I am very glad it has found its place. We are in the ecosystem of Brightlands Chemelot Campus and funding for the next years has been established.

“Cooperation is essential, especially on a European scale.”

I hope my successor will be a frontrunner in sustainability ambitions, giving technology a solid place. We need inspiring leaders. I hope that more companies in the value chain will start to work together, so that we can unite and stand shoulder to shoulder to fight the enormous climate challenges. Cooperation is essential, especially on a European scale. Only then you can work efficiently and quickly on solutions to the major issues of sustainability, climate control and circularity.

A personal word of thanks

“I like to thank everyone who has joined in this great journey, both inside and outside of Brightlands Materials Center. I wish my successor a lot of success and good spirit in his new job. I will continue to support activities to build a better world, so we will most likely meet again!”

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