Burgemeester BASF Conferentie

Toespraak burgemeester Jan van Zanen

Utrecht, Academiegebouw, 29 mei 2019

Dear all,

To me, there isn’t a better place to talk about chemistry, innovation and research than here. Really, it is here, at the very heart of the university that students and PhD candidates celebrate the results of  their scientific discoveries. This building is a symbol of progress already for centuries. Because it was here that the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1579, an event that is generally viewed as marking the origin of the Dutch nation. The statue of Jan van Nassau, standing in front of the University Hall, serves as a reminder of this important occasion.

Today we celebrate the history of 50 years of catalyst production. A history of 50 years progress and innovations. Innovations that are not always well known to the general public, but that have become indispensable in our daily lives.  

Examples include the chemicals developed here in Utrecht in De Meern to make margarine out of oil or to produce the colour indigo blue that is used to colour jeans. And I suspect that many here associate BASF with the cassette tapes from the 1980s...

Or with the well-known three-way catalytic converter that most of our cars are equipped with. It is innovations like these that we desperately need for the quality of life in our city, and that are often born at the BASF-location ‘De Meern’ in close collaboration with researchers from Utrecht University.

Like the research into metal nanoparticles. The results published last year are quite spectacular. As I understand it, nickel particles as small as one forty-thousandth of a human hair are the best catalysts for CO2 conversion. The potential, I am told, is enormous. CO2 reduction is one of the themes that we really need to address in the light of climate change.

And at the beginning of this year it was announced that the chemists from Utrecht University succeeded in using cobalt as a catalyst for the production of base chemicals from natural gas.

At present, a great deal of CO2 is still released during the production of plastic, medicines and solvents. But with this technique it should be possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to almost zero.

Such applications are not only welcome, indeed they are necessary in a time of increasing urbanization. Urbanization is one of the greatest challenges facing the world. In 2030 there will be more than 43 megacities with over 10 million inhabitants.
Utrecht too is experiencing this trend. In 2018, the city grew faster than in previous years and the 400,000th inhabitant is now predicted a year earlier, namely in 2024.  So the question is how Utrecht can continue to develop while still keeping the human factor in focus.

Some key questions are important: how cities might look in the future? How urbanization can be managed in a sustainable way? How quality of life can be improved at the same time. Technologies developed in De Meern can be of importance in answering some of these questions. That is a knife that cuts both ways. Not only does it help us to strive for a sustainable and healthy city, it also enriches Utrecht with high-quality business activity with many opportunities for students to do relevant internships and research.

In short, BASF's work in De Meern was, is and remains of great value for the future of our city. I am convinced that you are doing everything possible to comply with safety standards in a responsible manner. And that BASF is going to bring us many more ground-breaking and necessary innovations. I congratulate you on this milestone and wish you all the success for the future. Thank you very much.