Interview with Prof Tom Hennebel, Project Leader at Umicore and guest lecturer at Ghent University

What is your field of study and how are you connected to Ghent University and SINReM?

“I’m part of the research group on biometallurgy, a section of metallurgy that focuses on the development of microbial and biochemical conversion processes for the extraction of metals from ores, liquid and solid waste. These processes are the basis for a wide variety of technologies focused on biomining and recovery of resources (e.g. platinum, selenium and tellurium) from solid waste, wastewater and industrial process residues with the use of bacteria.”

“As lecturer of the SINReM course ‘Resource Recovery Technologies’, I aim to raise awareness on the circular economy and the importance of recycling processes. We cannot mine primary resources forever and dump our waste without recycling metals. In the entire metal collection and recycling process, losses of materials are still high in every step. Mostly primary materials are still being added to compensate for those losses. Therefore, it is important to conduct research into the development of technologies minimising losses in those confluents of recycling processes. However, extracting little quantities of metals remaining in the waste is often a costly and time-consuming process. Companies such as Umicore and academic experts are developing technologies to harvest those metals in a sustainable way with the use of bacteria, consuming less energy and fewer chemicals.”

The SINReM programme claims to have a different approach to teaching. Do you agree?

“We are convinced that the classic way of lecturing does work for some students. Some want to immerse themselves in theoretical lectures, while others are more drawn to practical case studies. The SINReM programme wants to offer both and adds involvement, entrepreneurship and creativity to the mix. SINReM students should be independent and entrepreneurial, because we want them to interact with experts, share their opinions, and discuss problems and solutions with fellow students. During the contacts with their lecturers, we want students to focus on practical cases, coached exercises and discussions. Therefore, the theoretical part consists of web lectures. The course ‘Resource Recovery Technologies’ includes ten fields of competence, offered in a web-based environment. When determining these ten expertise fields, we asked ourselves which competences a student should have when graduating and starting a job in the industry. Each web-based environment is set up by an expert in that particular field and contains three or four knowledge clips with important learnings, a 30-slide presentation and short assignments related to the theory.

What message would you give to future students?

“Students who choose to enrol in SINReM are opting for a non-conventional Master programme. This international Master programme was awarded a quality label by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology and encourages students to be entrepreneurial, have a high adaptability and an open mindset. They must also be willing to travel to Belgium, Germany and Sweden. They should be strongly motivated, creative and dynamic in all aspects of the learning process. We are eager for them to join us on this fascinating journey.”

More information on the programme?