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.


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.


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.


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. 


Dr. Paul Jusner obtained a master’s degree in Wood Technology and Management in 2018 at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) and received his PhD upon completion of the doctoral program Advanced Biorefineries: Chemistry and Materials in 2022. From 2017 to 2022, he was a member of the Institute of Chemistry of Renewable Resources at BOKU university. During that time, he was working on the chemical modification of cellulose fibers, the characterization of lignocellulosic biomass and the safe utilization of biomass processing agents. In 2023, Paul joined VITO as a postdoctoral researcher where he will be working on the depolymerization and solubilization of lignin.


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.


Dr. ir. Marlies Thys holds a master's degree in Chemical Engineering with a specialization in Molecular Systems and Materials Chemistry from Eindhoven University of Technology. She pursued her PhD on bioderived adaptive networks through a collaboration between Vrije Universiteit Brussel and VITO, under the supervision of Prof. Niko Van den Brande and Richard Vendamme. After successfully defending her PhD in October 2023, she remained at VITO as a researcher, focusing on advancing the development of biobased and/or reversible materials.

Sofie Houben

Dr. Sofie Houben obtained her master’s degree in chemistry from the KU Leuven in 2018. During her PhD in the Advanced Functional Polymers group at Hasselt University (2023), she worked on the design and characterization of though interpenetrating network hydrogels for tissue engineering applications. In 2023 she joined SPOT team in VITO as a post-doctoral researcher working on the chemical recycling of plastics.

Frédérique Clifton

Frédérique Clifton (MSc) recently obtained her master’s degree in Molecular Chemistry at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (August 2023). At the University she specialised in Synthetic Organic Synthesis in the group of Prof. Dr. Floris Rutjes. After completing her graduation internship at the Green Chemistry Campus with VITO, she officially joined the SPOT team in Mol as a lab researcher to continue her work on the synthesis of renewable aromatic building blocks starting from amino acids.


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).


Dr. ir. Carlos Marquez obtained his Bachelor and his Master’s degree from La Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela in 2015 (Summa Cum Laude). Later that year, he joined Prof. Dirk De Vos’ group at KU Leuven as a PhD student under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action ITN DEFNET, focusing on the engineered design of double metal cyanides as heterogeneous catalysts for organic reactions. After finishing his PhD, he started working as a postdoctoral fellow in the same group, with an active involvement on different projects about recycling and revalorization of plastic waste. In 2024, he joined the Sustainable Polymer Technologies team at VITO to work on the chemical recycling of oxygen containing plastics.


Dr. Johan Van hunsel holds a PhD degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Anwerp. He joined the Agfa-Gevaert Group in Mortsel (Belgium) (more specifically its Graphic Systems Division) in 1989 and has held several (leading) positions during his 33 years of career with this company. Johan started as a R&D project and program manager, working on the development and testing of new digital lithographic printing plates and the according pre-press systems. This work led to the filing of more than 30 patent applications and research disclosures. He went on to hold several technical product management functions within Agfa Graphics N.V. After a number of years in more managerial positions, he returned to R&D and eventually became part (and eventually head) of Agfa Graphics’ Technology & Innovation Office, where he assumed patent liaison and technology intelligence manager roles for all of Agfa Graphics’ R&D activities in both offset and digital (inkjet) printing. In these roles he gained a lot of experience with patent filing proceedings (and the necessary preparative steps), active patent portfolio management, infringement and litigation proceedings and finally also selling of patents. Johan left Agfa N.V. in April 2022 and has worked ever since as a technical writer and consultant for the graphic arts industry. In 2023 he worked for 7 months as a stakeholder relations officer - research & innovation for the Association of Flemish Universities of Applied Sciences.

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.


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.


Dr. ir. Elias Feghali holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Paris-Saclay since 2015. He has a master of engineering in chemical engineering (French diplôme d’ingénieur) as well as a master of science 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 associate professor of chemical engineering at Notre Dame University-Louaize, Lebanon. 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 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.


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. In 2021, as part of an international collaboration, he worked as an industrial postdoctoral fellow between VITO (SPOT team, Belgium) and Scion (New Zealand) on the valorisation of lignin and synthesis of lignin polymeric materials. In 2024, he returned to Belgium and the SPOT team as a researcher looking into more sustainable flame retardants.


Balaji Sridharan obtained his master’s degree in Energy and Process Technology from TU Delft and is currently waiting for his PhD graduation from the University of Groningen (RUG) in the Netherlands, where he worked in a Horizon 2020 research consortium called ABC-salt to convert lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels under the supervision of Erik Heeres and Robbie Vanderbosch (from Biomass Technology Group (BTG), NL). He further continued his research career at RUG/BTG as a post-doctoral researcher in the co-refining of pyrolysis oil to biofuels. In August of 2023, he joined Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and has been involved in the continuous catalytic depolymerization of Lignin. His interests lie in the use of heterogeneous catalysis in thermochemical approaches to valorize lignin and biopolymers. He is passionate about a more sustainable energy/chemical industry and aims to contribute to a more renewable and a carbon neutral society.


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.

Brent Daelemans

Dr. Brent Daelemans obtained his PhD in Chemistry (2023) at the KU Leuven under the supervision of Prof. Steven De Feyter and Prof. Wim Dehaen. During his PhD, he studied the use of graphite as a catalyst by combining high-resolution characterization techniques with reactions in bulk. Part of the research was performed at the Universitat Jaume I (Spain) during a research stay under the supervision of Prof. Jose A. Mata. In September 2023, Brent joined the SPOT team at VITO as a researcher where he will be working on the depolymerization of lignin. 

Thi Thanh Tam Huynh

Thi Thanh Tam Huynh obtained a master’s degree in Science Education at Kyungpook National University, South Korea (2021). Her thesis focuses on the synthesis for gradient copolymer of methyl acrylate with common alcohols using living radical polymerization. Before beginning her PhD, she completed a 6-months internship at KITECH, South Korea working on dyeing on Nilon-6 via UV-photografting. In December 2022, she start as PhD student at VITO focusing on design of lignin acrylate functional materials.


Dr. Marc Comí Bonachí obtained a master’s degree in Polymers and Biopolymers in Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and a Ph.D. in Chemical Science and Technology at the Universita Rovira I Virgili (Spain), where he specialized in the utilization of renewable resource derived feedstocks to design, functionalize and fabricate new monomers and polymers. His research was focused in applying supramolecular-reversible interactions to develop material smart properties, such as, self-healing or memory-shape.

He continued his career in the Science Department at Texas A&M University at Qatar developing efficient strategies in chemical structural engineering for the design of conjugated polymeric materials used in optoelectronic applications.

In January 2023, he joined the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and he is involved in several R&D projects in the fields of depolymerized lignin-based epoxy resins and polyurethanes for industrial applications such as, adhesives, insulators or coatings. His interests involve the use of recyclable and renewable resources to create new polymeric or composite materials, the characterization, measurement of their physicochemical properties and the stablish relations between them in order to predict the characteristics of future materials.