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Marc Cornelissen Brightlands 2021 Award goes to Panos Kouris

Based at Brightlands Chemelot Campus since last year with his startup company Vertoro, Panos Kouris is the winner of the 2021 Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award. His advanced plans to extract lignin from wood waste, which in turn can be used as fuel for ships and as a raw material for plastics, garnered the most favor with the jury. Dysmus Kisulu of Solar Freeze and Werner Schouten of the Youth Climate Movement shared second place.

The winner of the biennial award, a work of art and a cash prize of €35,000, was announced and presented yesterday afternoon during an event at the Geleen campus by Theo Bovens, Queen’s Commissioner in Limburg.


This year, 25 candidates from the Netherlands and abroad submitted entries for this third edition of the contest. The professional jury ultimately chose three finalists from these entries. “All three are winners, even though only one can win the award,” says jury chairman Emmo Meijer. “We were really impressed by the diversity of the entries; there were great ideas and plans from all over the world. This award is important for the transition to a more sustainable world and the fight against climate change.”


Winner Panos Kouris’ company Vertoro is testing the conversion of wood residue, agricultural products and paper waste into lignin at a pilot plant at Brightlands Chemelot Campus. The resulting liquid can serve as a replacement for high-pollution diesel fuel in ship’s engines and as a raw material for naphtha crackers instead of fossil fuel. “The maritime sector is responsible for a significant proportion of CO2 emissions,” said Kouris. “If we replace diesel with lignin, the emissions will drop considerably and we won’t have to drill for oil anymore. I’m really happy with the award. We can use the prize money to bring science even closer to society.”


The jury also had high praise for the other two nominees: Dysmus Kisulu of Solar Freeze and Werner Schouten of the Youth Climate Movement. Kisulu’s entry, Solar Freeze, aims to market affordable, community refrigeration systems for farmers that allow them to store their fruit and vegetables longer. The goal is for the mobile cooling units to run on solar panels, and for farmers to rent these cooling units by the hour at a low cost. The Youth Climate Movement communicates young people’s sustainable messages, and connects their voices to politicians, policymakers and the business community by drafting a climate agenda, transition plans and campaigns. According to the jury, it’s important for the younger generation’s voices to be heard, and reason enough to offer the organization a place to work at the campus.


This award is an homage to Marc Cornelissen, the polar explorer and sustainability pioneer who perished during a polar expedition in 2015. A year after his death, a foundation chaired by former minister Maria van der Hoeven took the initiative to start the award, won that year for the first time by Martine Bouman. The award’s main objective is to motivate sustainability pioneers in areas such as circularity, nutrition, digitalization and health. The cash prize is intended to be applied toward the further development of an idea or innovation. In 2018, medical entomologist Bart Knols won the award for his role in fighting the malaria mosquito.

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Prior to the award ceremony, online presentations were given for a small audience and via a livestream by Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Netherlands’ best-known physicist, professor and director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, and by Cara Augustenborg, an Irish-American environmental scientist, climate change lecturer, writer and activist who, together with Marc Cornelissen, took part in the Ben & Jerry's Climate Change College. There were also short interviews with some of the supporting partners: Deputy Ruud Burlet of the Province of Limburg, Pascal van der Meulen of Rabobank, and Arnold Stokking of BrightSite, the institute at Brightlands Chemelot Campus that specializes in sustainability and circularity. The Limburg singer-songwriter Ar-Jane provided musical interludes.