Montreal-based Enerkem, a waste-to-biofuels and chemicals producer, has appointed Peter Nieuwenhuizen to vice president (VP) of technology strategy and deployment to lead development and innovation of the Enerkem technology as well as the acceleration of the company's impact on a global scale.
“Peter is a seasoned leader who brings over 25 years of international experience in the chemical industry,” said Dominique Boies, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of Enerkem, in a statement. “We are pleased to welcome him as we develop sustainable waste management processes, as well as the biofuels and green chemicals of the future.”
Waste360 recently sat down with Nieuwenhuizen to discuss his new role and the future of technology in the waste and recycling industry.
Waste360: What is your career background in and out of the waste and recycling industry?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: I’m a chemist by education, having obtained a Ph.D. from Leiden University in the Netherlands. I have not had a career in waste, but the move to a world of recycling and circularity has made the waste and chemical industries unexpected partners.
I started my career in AkzoNobel, a 15 Bn EUR chemicals and paints company. First in research, then as a business analyst, and subsequently I became responsible for global sales and marketing of flame retardants such as those used in TVs. I left AkzoNobel in 2006 after five years to work for Arthur D. Little, the consultancy, in their chemicals and energy practice, doing projects in strategy, innovation and sustainability. There, I got a lot of exposure to the strategies and innovations around developing sustainable alternatives to oil and gas as raw materials for the industry.
I was asked to come back to AkzoNobel in 2011 to become director of future-proof supply chains responsible for strategic initiatives to ensure future competitiveness of AkzoNobel products, especially concerning sustainability and societal demands. In 2014, I became chief technology officer for the EUR 5 Bn Specialty Chemicals unit of AkzoNobel (now known as Nouryon). Later, I added to that the role of director of sustainability.
Waste360: Describe your new role as vice president of technology strategy and deployment for Enerkem.
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: I will oversee Enerkem’s technology and innovation program, including Enerkem’s technology offerings and partnerships, its IP generation, as well as the company’s technology roadmap. Specifically, I will work with the technology and innovation team to see where we should strengthen or expand our technology and where partnering with customers or like-minded companies makes sense.
Waste360: How will you accelerate the company's impact on a global scale?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: Developments toward a circular industry are going very fast. Fast-moving consumer goods companies, retailers, governments, consumers and citizens are asking we change our current practices. Current developments in the industry as well as the readiness level of Enerkem’s technology mean this is the right moment to ensure that Enerkem will capture positions in the circular fuels and chemicals landscape, including as a solution for plastic waste.
Waste360: What will you do to lead the development and innovation of the Enerkem technology?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: With a dedicated innovation center in Quebec and an affiliated research facility in Alberta, Canada, Enerkem has one of the most capable R&D [research and development] networks of any waste-to-biofuel company. The company’s research and innovation network employs more than 20 people and leverages numerous others through academic and other research partnerships. Enerkem research and engineering to date has resulted in more than 20 patent families, more than 100 international patents and countless innovative breakthroughs since the company’s inception in 2000.
It’s an impressive feat for such a young company compared to other multinational players in the same sector, for some of which I have worked for in the past. I intend to build on this legacy by making sure we extend our lead in key technology areas and capture new positions related to relevant raw materials and products. Where that makes sense, I will aim to form partnerships with our sustainable technology startups or customers.
Waste360: What is the future of technology in the waste and recycling industry?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: Technology will become far more important. Technology is needed to separate waste, to reuse waste, to upgrade waste. Or in the case of Enerkem, technology is needed to turn waste that is at the end of its useful life, waste that can no longer be reused, back into fully regenerated raw materials that can be turned into brand new products.
Waste360: What is your leadership style?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: Two things: first, I’m a deep believer in the capabilities and know-how that is present in the organization. As a leader, it is most important to create the conditions where all the members of the team can contribute their utmost. That means asking where we can do better and turning that into a work plan or strategy that has everybody’s buy-in.
Second, given that I’ve worked in so many different environments—R&D, sales, supply chain, strategy—I firmly believe in collaboration, especially now when innovations are much more radical and impactful than 10 years ago. I believe success follows from collaboration between all kinds—bringing together technology, business and creativity.
Waste360: What is your greatest accomplishment to date in your career?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: Besides joining Enerkem? This would be the creation of Imagine Chemistry, the startup challenge that we ran in AkzoNobel for three consecutive years. Our goal was to find and link up with startups from around the world, to identify solutions for some of the most difficult challenges we are facing with customers or in our factories—many related to sustainability and circularity. We found more than 600 startups, ran intense workshops with more than 50 and developed lasting relationships with more than 15.
I’m very proud that we were able to create an environment where a big corporation and startups can work together as equals, and I’m personally still in close contact with quite a number—even some that did not make it to our finals!
Waste360: What is on the horizon for sustainability?
Peter Nieuwenhuizen: I’d like to mention that we are living through a unique moment in time, which will bring the waste and chemical industries very close together. We are at the end of the linear petrochemical economy wave. It has brought us lots of good things: new and safer products, wealth and jobs. But also challenges such as CO2 emissions and plastic waste.
We are now standing at the start of a third wave of development of a circular economy to make those same products in a manner that is more sustainable so that we reduce the impact of our activities on the planet. This is an exciting time for innovation. We need to develop new products or processes that are truly circular: using waste, renewable materials and renewable energy as our starting materials, and closing the loop on the products we provide. Enerkem is a bridge between the waste and chemical industries, and in my new role, I look forward to playing my part in both these industries.