Who is the passionate Delft ‘hydrogen pro’ who did not report his external financiers?

Wherever Professor Ad van Wijk turns up, his message is the same: the Netherlands must play a key role in the global hydrogen economy and has the right credentials to do so. The sea, the port of Rotterdam, large industrial companies and an excellent gas infrastructure make “the large-scale import, production and application of hydrogen possible” in the Netherlands, Van Wijk wrote in an opinion piece two years ago. NRC. While foreign governments invest billions in hydrogen, Van Wijk wrote, the Netherlands is keeping its purse strings – a shame.

revealed Sunday afternoon The Financial Times that Van Wijk has been quietly paid for almost five years by lobby club Netbeheer Nederland, which represents the interests of Gasunie and Liander, among others. And that is not allowed.

The integrity code requires scientists to be transparent about external funding, but neither Van Wijk nor TU Delft have reported this. TU Delft acknowledges that it should have done so. Van Wijk states to the FD that he did not know the code. It is not the first blot on Professor Van Wijk’s CV. Who is this ‘hydrogen pro’?

Passion for sustainability

Van Wijk already had a passion for sustainability at a young age. Van Wijk graduated in 1983 as a physicist at Utrecht University. A year later he founded Ecofys with college friends, a small company that was supposed to help make the energy supply worldwide more sustainable and reduce the use of oil, natural gas and coal. “Our social involvement was great,” co-founder Kornelis Blok told NRC in 2009. “We wanted to mean something to ordinary people.”

Ecofys is not off to a flying start. Initially, the company had to peddle for orders. The big hit did not materialize until the mid-1990s: in Nieuwegein, Ecofys built 77 energy-efficient homes together with the World Wildlife Fund. Shortly afterwards, Van Wijk decided that his company would also write strategic policy advice for governments and the European Commission. In no time, the people of Ecofys were regular guests in The Hague and Brussels. In 2000, Van Wijk founded Econcern, a company with three departments specialized in developing wind farms, large-scale solar power projects and other large projects, among other things.

Econcern quickly grows into a large company with 1,400 employees on the payroll. Under the company was a tangle of more than two hundred companies and projects, with 53 offices in 24 countries, writes research platform Follow the Money (FTM) in a profile about Van Wijk.

His company built the first offshore wind farm on the Dutch coast. In North Holland, it built the ‘city of the sun’, a residential area of ​​three thousand homes with solar panels on the roof. And also abroad – including Belgium, Germany, the UK and China – contracts were concluded to build wind farms on the coast.

The Econcern also prospered financially. In eight years, turnover increased from 14 million in 2001 to 443 in 2008. And hardly any profit was made in 2001, in 2008 there was 84 million profit in the books.

That did not go unnoticed. Van Wijk was named by EY in 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year. And a year later he was Topman of the Year. If his company continued like this, he said, it would make 8 billion euros in sales and 1 billion euros in profit in 2012.

That turned out differently. Because in the years that followed, the credit crisis reared its ugly head. Investors demanded their money back and banks refused to lend money. Econcern also turned out to have accumulated considerable debts. Van Wijk continuously invested in expensive prestigious projects, which would often only pay off years later – if at all. In the spring of 2009, the curtain fell on his company: the first employees were laid off in April, and a month later a deferment of payment was requested.

His company went bankrupt in 2009, after which Van Wijk became an advisor at Eneco

Shortly after the bankruptcy, Van Wijk started working as a consultant at Eneco. But not for long. It soon turned out that the chaos at Econcern was greater than expected. It turned out that the accounting had been tampered with, although Van Wijk denied this.

In 2011, Van Wijk picked himself up again: he was appointed professor by special appointment of future energy systems at TU Delft. From 2018 he had to help Groningen become the hydrogen region of Europe. He has now left that project behind and is focusing on European hydrogen projects.

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