YCN - Industry in Spot: Yoran De Vos (VITO)

My current projects focus on additive manufacturing of porous materials for catalysis and adsorption. I mainly employ Direct Ink Writing (DIW), as it is scalable and very suitable to obtain porous structures out of almost any material, without issues with debinding.

The printed structures are suitable for catalysis and adsorption, because you can achieve both (i) low mass transfer resistance of the chemicals to the adsorption and catalytic sites and (ii) low pressure drop over the catalyst/adsorbent bed due to the design. Mass transfer versus pressure drop is usually a tradeoff when using conventional adsorbents and catalysts, but the freedom of design by 3D-printing overcomes this. 
VITO is an independent Flemish research organization in the area of cleantech and sustainable development. With several teams, working on themes related to for example chemistry, energy and materials, we aim to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. At the CAST-team, we are developing technologies that enable powder based industrial innovation and product development, both at lab and demo-scale. Some topics include 3D printed catalysts and sorbents.

How did you decide to start working in your company?
I started working at VITO already in 2014, when I started my PhD in collaboration with Ghent University. I chose VITO, because I liked the topic, but especially because I felt that I could make an actual difference on short term with my research the interesting sustainability-related topics, opportunities to learn and the feeling that we are making a difference is still the reasons why I continued working at VITO as a researcher.

For you, what were the main advantages to do a PhD at VITO? 
In industrial research, you work on something that should be applicable at industrial scale on mid to short-term. Consequently, you need to focus also on things such as scalability and cost. Therefore, you are doing research with a different – more pragmatic mindset, compared to academic research, and you develop other skills that are very useful after the PhD. 
Additionally, there is less change of personnel, so there you have the opportunity to learn from many people with a lot of experience. And a dedicated technician that is working with a technique for more than 30 years surely knows what he/she is doing.
Overall I would recommend young researchers to make a thesis in the industry, especially if you like practical and applicable research in a multi-disciplinary environment.

For you, what are the main differences between your current position as a researcher and during your thesis? 
While previously I had almost all time to work on my PhD-topic, currently I am dividing my time between at least 4 projects. Additionally, there is also some administration related to writing proposals, internal presentation and progress reports. So it can be challenging from time to time to manage the available time. On the other hand, there are so many interesting people and opportunities, and a large number of things to learn and to do. So I would not want it any other way.

Dr. Yoran De Vos
Researcher at VITO