Meet the team

Here are some faces of the key people in the SPOT team and the main research lines they are involved in.

Karolien Vanbroekhoven (Research Manager)

Dr. ir. Karolien Vanbroekhoven, is Research Manager sustainable chemistry at VITO. She joined VITO in 2002 after her PhD in BioEngineering from KULeuven and has a lot of experience in managing various national/international projects. Up to 2018 she was a program manager leading the bioprocess and electrochemistry teams at the business unit Separation and Conversion Technology. Her focus areas of R&D are biobased economy, biomass valorisation, and bioprocess development. Recently, she coordinates the technology development within the program of sustainable chemistry, with main focus areas on new value chains from renewable and recycled feedstock and sustainable industrial process development. Mainly active in strategy development and implementation, a.o. technology development, building strategic collaborations, technology watch. She also leads the research theme on bioaromatics and is on the board of the shared research centre ‘Biorizon’ initiated by VITO, TNO and the Green Chemistry Campus. She has >6200 citations (current H-index- 38, Google scholar).

Kathy Elst

Dr. Kathy Elst- holds a PhD in Physics (1993) and worked as a project manager in a chemical company on the development of tailored light-sensitive crystals by new precipitation processes. She joined VITO at 2001 and is currently a project manager in SCT. Her main research field involves the development of processes to separate and purify added value components from different types of biomass streams, including biomass waste/side streams and algae. Her main focus is on the application of green solvents and innovative pressurized processes. Kathy Elst was involved in several scientific and industrial research projects and was group leader and/or WP-leader in several EU-projects (Prospare, Bioconcept, Sayogh, Noshan, iAlgaePro) and regional projects. Kathy Elst has a large experience in performing and protecting innovative technology development. During her career she authored many US, EU and JP patents and patent applications (20 patent families). She is author/co-author of more than 40 SCI-publications.

SANDRA CORDERÍ GÁNDARA

Dr. Sandra Corderí Gándara obtained a master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Vigo (Spain), where she specialized in innovative  separation processes using ionic liquids. She continued her career in the Sustainable Process Technology group at the University of Twente (The Netherlands) developing efficient processes for the separation of chiral molecules and aliphatic/oxygenates streams. In May 2019, she joined the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and has been involved in several R&D projects in the fields of lignin downstream processing (fractionation, solubilization, purification, depolymerization) and plastics recycling.

RICHARD VENDAMME

Dr. ir. Richard Vendamme, Senior Research Scientist, PhD, obtained an engineering degree and a master's degree in chemistry in Lille (France) in 2001. He subsequently moved to the Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz (Germany), where he prepared his PhD working on stimuli-responsive liquid crystalline gels. In 2004 he was awarded a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship and started his career at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in Japan. In 2007, he joined the European headquarter of Nitto Denko, one of Japan’s leading diversified materials manufacturers, where he was successively involved in R&D, innovation, and techno-marketing. He is working at VITO since April 2017 in the field of bio-aromatics and bio-polymer development, where he recently built a team of +/- 10 researchers (incl postdocs, PhD’s). Richard is author of 18 scientific publications, 10 patents, and also holds an executive MBA from Vlerick business school.

MAARTEN RUBENS

Dr. ir. Maarten Rubens has a master's degree in chemical engineering (2016) from the Technical University of Eindhoven and a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry (2020) from Hasselt University. During his Ph.D., he spent 3 years at Monash University, Australia in the group of prof. T. Junkers working on implement flow technology for precision polymer engineering of polyacrylates. Currently, he is pursuing a post-doc in the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in the field of bio-aromatics and sustainable polymer development. He is (co-) author of 13 peer-reviewed scientific publications in the field of acrylic polymers and flow chemistry. 

PANAGIOTIS FALIREAS

Dr. Panagiotis Falireas received his Ph.D. in polymer Chemistry in 2015 from the department of Materials Science and Technology in the university of Crete (Greece) where he specialized in the synthesis and characterization of stimuli-responsive polymers and nanocomposites. Then, he joined the Chemistry School of Montpellier (ENSCM, France) where he expanded his research interests on the controlled/living radical polymerization of Fluorine and Phosphorus containing-monomers. In 2018, he joined the polymer group in University of Liege (CERM, Belgium) where his research was focused on the development of vitrimers and dynamic networks. He is currently in the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) working in the design and exploration of novel materials based on lignin.

MIET VAN DAEL

Dr. Miet Van Dael is a research scientist at VITO. She obtained her PhD in Applied Economics at Hasselt University, Belgium in 2014. She joined VITO in 2013. Till 2017 she worked at VITO (50%) and combined this with a post-doc position (50%) at the Hasselt University. Since 2017 she works fulltime at VITO as an economic researcher in the unit of Separation and Conversion Technology. Furthermore, she is a research affiliate in the environmental economics group at the Hasselt and Antwerp University. Her main field of expertise is techno-economic assessments. As a researcher her ambitions are to further integrate techno-economic assessments with an environmental and social impact, make the methodology spatially explicit and link it with the acceptance of the assessed technologies. In doing so, her main fields of interest are biorefineries and CCU technologies.

MARLIES THYS

Ir. Marlies Thys is a PhD-student working on the development of reversible networks derived from biomass. Marlies holds a master degree in Chemical Engineering with specialization in Molecular Systems and Materials Chemistry from the Eindhoven University of Technology. She did her master thesis in the group of Profs. Bert Meijer and Anja Palmans where she worked on adaptive self-assembled block copolymers with well-defined morphologies. Before starting her PhD in October 2018, she did a 4 month internship at Vito which initiated the current PhD-topic of bioderived adaptive networks.

Gregory Facas

Dr. Gregory Facas received his PhD in chemical engineering in 2020 from the University of Minnesota, where he specialized in reaction engineering for studying biomass pyrolysis chemistry. After completing his PhD, he joined the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, USA) as a postdoctoral researcher, where he worked on lignin valorization and improving the economic potential of lignin-first biorefineries. In 2022, Dr. Facas joined VITO as a postdoctoral researcher, where he will be working on plastics recycling and lignin depolymerization.

Thu Hong Doan

Dr. Thu Hong Doan obtained a master’s degree in Medicinal Chemistry at University of Rennes 1 (France) in 2014 and a PhD in the Laboratory of Molecular and Thio-Organic Chemistry, University of Caen Normandy (France) in 2018. Her thesis is about the synthesis and photophysical evaluations of the polycyclic aromatics and heteroaromatics as the promising materials for organic semiconductors. In 2019, she joined the group of Prof. Guillaume Berionni in University of Namur (Belgium) as a post-doctoral researcher where she worked on main group chemistry. In September 2022, she moved to the SPOT team in Vito as a postdoctoral researcher for the chemical modification of lignin project.

ROEL VLEESCHOUWERS

Ir. Roel Vleeschouwers - Business Development Manager at VITO in the field of Sustainable Chemistry. Master in Bioscience Engineering at the University of Leuven, Belgium Graduated at KULeuven in applied biological and chemical sciences as engineer in 1993. He is responsible for the business development and valorisation of the developed  innovative technologies and applications in the field of sustainable chemistry, with a specific focus on using biomass as alternative feedstocks. He is expert in the field of membrane technology with over more than 20 years of experience and co-author of several publications in this field. Within the Biorizon shared research center he is responsible for the business development and valorisation of the Lignin Horizon towards implementation of industrial scale production of bioaromatics from lignin as well as the implementation of industrial application using these bioaromatics fractions.   He has recently participated as an invited speaker at top conferences in biomass valorisation (EFIB, WorldBioMarket, OSN2019, PlantBasedSummit2019).

Sofie Sannen

In 1994, Sofie Sannen started straight from high school as a secretary in the Quality department at Ford Werke in Genk (Belgium). After 9 months, in April 1995, she started at VITO, in the brand-new team of BAT (Best Available Technologies), which was part of the Environmental Technologies department. Over the years, this department underwent several transitions from Environmental Technologies, over Environmental & Process Technologies to what it is today: unit Separation & Conversion Technologies (SCT). During this transition, Sofie stayed in the unit and is now 1 of the 3 secretaries supporting a unit of + 100 researchers & technicians. More specifically, Sofie takes care of  project administration of 2 project teams of the SCT unit, being MESCH (MEmbrane Separation and value CHain assessment) and the SPOT team.

VIVIANA POLIZZI

Dr. Viviana Polizzi graduated as Master in Food Science and Technology at the University of Catania (Italy) and obtained her PhD at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering of Ghent University. From 2011 she worked for 6 years as an analytical scientist at the R&D Centre Europe of Cargill. Viviana joined VITO (unit SCT) in 2018 to contribute to different research projects focusing on valorization of lignin by membrane technology and lignin depolymerization, aiming at enabling commercial production of bio-aromatics. Her interests include supporting the improvement and implementation of analytical methods for comprehensive characterization of lignin (oils) and unravelling relationships between lignin structure and polymer characteristics.

ELIAS FEGHALI

Dr. ir. Elias Feghali holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Paris-Saclay since 2015. He has a masters in chemical engineering (French diplôme d’ingénieur) as well as a masters in molecular and supramolecular chemistry from the Université de Strasbourg, France. In 2012 he joined the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA) for his PhD dedicated to the valorization of plastic waste, lignin and CO2. Afterwards, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow between SCION (New Zealand) and VITO (Belgium) and CSIRO (Australia). Dr. Feghali is also an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Notre Dame University, Lebanon since 2017. In 2020, Dr. Feghali joined the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) as a visiting researcher and has been involved in several R&D projects in the fields of lignin valorisation, plastic waste recycling, heterogeneous catalysis and bio-polymer synthesis.

Stijn Geudens

Stijn Geudens graduated in 2022 as a Bachelor in Chemistry at Thomas More. During his education at Thomas More, he did an internship at VTIO and did his bachelor thesis on the modification of lignosulfonates for subsequent use as building blocks in polyurethanes. After his education, he started his professional career at VITO as a lab support within the SPOT team focussing on the recycling of plastics.

OLIVER DRISCOLL

Dr. Oliver Driscoll undertook his PhD at the University of Bath (England), under the supervision of Prof. Matthew Jones, which was concerned with the exploration of Earth abundant iron complexes for their application to sustainable, homogeneous catalytic processes. This included ring opening polymerisation / copolymerisation, the transformation and coupling of CO2 with epoxides and briefly on polymer degradation. Also in Bath, he completed his Masters of Chemistry (MChem with hons) which included a year industrial research placement working at Sasol UK Ltd. in St. Andrews (Scotland) and a final year research project under the supervision of Dr. Ruth Webster. He recently joined the SPOT team in October 2021, as a postdoctoral fellow working between VITO and SCION (New Zealand) on the valorisation of lignin.

JAIME GRACIA VITORIA

Dr. Jaime Gracia Vitoria obtained the PhD degree in (organic) chemistry at University of Zaragoza in 2018 which was focused on the chemical modification o. the amino acid cysteine towards the synthesis of modified bioactive peptides such as antioxidants and lantibiotics. (University of Zaragoza).

In 2019 he joined VITO as postdoctoral researcher to improve the reactivity of lignin by means of chemical modification. His research interests focuses on lignin depolymerization and modification for its further use as a circular source to replace fossil based building blocks. Personally he aims to contribute to a more sustainable chemical/material industry and overall a more efficient use of resources and energy.

KELLY SERVAES

Dr Kelly Servaes obtained her PhD in Chemistry from the KULeuven in 2007. Initially, she was responsible for the development and application of analytical strategies and techniques for tracking of organics in different matrices at VITO. Since 2012, she was focusing on valorisation of biomass through identification, extraction and purification of added-value components. In 2014, she joined the bio-aromatic strategic platform, focusing on development of membrane separation processes for purification and fractionation of lignin-based streams, issued from pre-treatment and lignin depolymerisation processes. She is the project coordinator of the construction of the LignoValue Pilot plant and its pretreatment facility PILLAR and will be involved in the site acceptance testing of the pilot plant for pretreatment and metal-catalyzed lignin depolymerisation. Project leader of several  projects at national and EU level. (Co)-author of 23 scientific publications.

Sam Vloemans

Sam Vloemans graduated in 2008 as a Bachelor in Chemistry and environmental science after which he started his professional career as a lab technician in the R&D labs of Soudal Turnhout. His main focus were lab trials in the development of hybrid adhesives and sealants as well as the in the development of PU polymers. In 2011 Sam joined the VITO SCT Unit as a member of the REC team performing lab experiments on high pressure & high temperature reactors, supercritical fluid extractions as well as doing DSP of organic waste/side streams. As from Januari 2021 Sam joined the SPOT team as a lab support in the depolymerization of lignin, epoxidation of lignin oils, plastics recycling and many more.

Annelore Aerts

Dr. ir. Annelore Aerts obtained a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry specialized in Molecular Systems and Materials Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology. After completing her internship on RAFT-polymerizations at CSIRO in Melbourne, she moved back to Eindhoven for a PhD in organic and polymer chemistry in the Supramolecular Polymer Chemistry Group of Rint Sijbesma and Hans Heuts. Her research was focused on probing damage in polymers and composites using mechanochemistry. Recently, in June 2022, she joined the SPOT team as a postdoctoral researcher on chemical recycling of plastics.

Dambarudhar Parida

Dr. Dambarudhar Parida obtained his PhD from the University of Strasbourg, France in 2014. His Ph.D research was focused on the Intensification of controlled radical polymerizations using micro-reaction technology. After, he worked as a postdoc at LCPO Bordeaux in the field of poly(ionic liquid) stabilized nanometal catalysts. Later in 2017, he joined Empa, Switzerland as a Postdoc. During his stay at Empa, he worked on the development of water-based functional coatings (weather resistant, conductive), flame retardant materials, functional adsorbents, and responsive catalysts. He joined VITO in July 2022 and his current research is focused on selective catalytic depolymerization of oxygenated polymers.  

BRECHT VANLERBERGHE

Ir. Brecht Vanlerberghe is Business Development Manager Sustainable Chemistry at VITO since 2019, with a focus on renewable and circular carbon. He holds 2 master’s degrees, MSc in applied bio engineering sciences (1996 University Ghent) & MSc in Industrial Management (University Ghent 2004). Prior to his actual position he was Head R&D at the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant in Ghent (2012-2019), an open access pilot & demo facility for the circular biobased economy. In this position he has been responsible for over 20 EU & regional consortia projects. From 1996 till 2012 he has been in R&D&I management & director positions within internationally active agrofood industry co-operations: Groupe AVEVE, renamed to Arvesta, (Belgium), FrieslandCampina (The Netherlands), Tereos Syral (France). These companies are to be considered as biorefineries producing a whole portfolio of food, feed & industrial ingredients starting from milk, cereals, tubers, and their coproducts.