Arnaud Thevenon is an assistant professor in sustainable catalysis at Utrecht University. His big aim is to add value to CO2.
What is your research subject?
‘I want to use CO2 to make polymers To do that we need to develop this catalyst. The other part is to convert CO2 into useful products using electricity and water. We want a catalyst that can convert CO2 into ethylene, which is an important building block. You can link it with the other project, because you can combine CO2 and ethylene to form polyolefin-like materials. These will be recyclable alternatives to polyolefins.’
Why this subject?
‘I think it goes back to my Master’s degree. I always liked homogeneous catalysis. We had good professors at EPFL in Lausanne, it’s very focused on homogeneous catalysis. The first project was to produce polymers. That’s when I started learning more and more about how chemists can develop new materials that are more sustainable. More recyclable, possibly biodegradable. And then the master’s project I did at UCLA, because I had the opportunity to work in this famous group. My professor actually put me in touch with them.’
Why in Utrecht?
‘I went to school in France, studied in Lausanne, did an Erasmus in Sweden, did a master’s thesis at UCLA in Los Angeles, a small internship in Switzerland, and started my PhD at Imperial College in London. Then I moved back to the US to work at Caltech. It was not homogeneous electrochemistry, it was heterogeneous electrochemistry. That’s when I became interested in doing my own research and wanted to challenge myself. I knew it was going to be a new hype for chemistry, so it was also a strategic decision. Typically, you apply for about ten positions in Europe. Utrecht gave me the infrastructure and environment that was ideal for developing my research. We share infrastructure, equipment and knowledge. You’re not out there alone, thinking you’re doing the best thing. You are part of a larger community from the start and you can bring the knowledge to help other people. We are not trying to compete, we are trying to work together. You can’t go far alone.’