ACT award 2021

The Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) Award is an annual celebration to highlight ACT student teams that went above and beyond in creating science-based value for society. Six ACT student teams were nominated for the ACT award this year. These six student teams were selected out of the 211 ACT projects that were executed in 2020.

Due to COVID-19, the ACT course was taught entire online in 2020. Students could not meet each other or the client in real life. However, the ACT awarding committee, consisting of Arnold Bregt, Perry den Brok and Liesbeth Luijendijk, noted that all six nominated projects did not consider this as a limitation, making them stand out. All six nominated projects are high-quality project, and the ACT awarding committee was very impressed by these projects.

After an in-depth discussing, sharing impressions and perspectives, the awarding committee decided that the ACT award 2021 goes to the project ‘From Farmland to sustainable Food Forest’.

About the project ‘From Farmland to sustainable Food Forest’

Green Heart Eco-Farm is a project in Geffen, Noord-Brabant, aiming to reconvert 2.5 ha of former agricultural land into a sustainable food forest. Their aim is to produce food for the local community and allow them to reconnect with nature, while simultaneously supporting local floral and faunal wildlife.

The ACT student team provided advice on the implementation of the first three layers of the native food forest, based on the local abiotic conditions and the information on the species list from the booklet. Furthermore, they gave insights concerning the incorporation of traditional hedges, as well as the formation of a more uneven topography, in accordance with the general goal of favouring wildlife. Lastly, they developed a visual medium to convey the nature of the project to relevant parties, primarily the local community.

The ACT award committee was very impressed by the creativity and innovativeness of the ACT student team. The students used various research methods. They consulted others, where they themselves saw that they lacked knowledge or needed inspiration. The project has been worked out very toughly and practically. It is more than just some advice; the students produced a book with dozens of native species that is used right now by the client to plant 4000 trees at the farm. The soil report that was created is also frequently used by the client when designing and building the farm and forest. And most impressively, the commissioner reported actual changes in the environment/soil after having used the advice of the team.

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Hereby, we would like to congratulate: Irene Chiva Aymerich, Morgane van Dam, Merel Snijders, Raghav Sharma, Pam Hurkens and Salomé Rinzema, the student members of this ACT project.

We also would like to thank and congratulate Kestrel Maher, the client, Michel Kropman as coach and Marcel Vijn as academic advisor of this ACT project.

Five other exemplary ACT projects
The ACT awarding committee was also very impressed with five other ACT projects:

  • PFAS bioremediation: Putting nature to work
    ACT student team: Korlah Dorko, Anna Favaro, Fleur de Haas, Yujun Huang, Bas Tulkens, Hongyu Wang and Nienke Zwart.
    Client: Luuk de Vetten (Geofoxx) – Coach: Jenny Kieskamp – Academic advisor: Tom Bosma
  • Delta21: A Dive Into the Future of Dutch Nature
    ACT student team: Kris van den Berg, Steven Heesterman, Kristina Hrelja, Emma Papasian, Lotte Roosen and Ymke Temmerman Client: H. Lavooij & L. Berke (Delta21) – Coach: Beitske Bouwman – Academic advisor: Jasper Candel
  • Basic Substances as an Alternative Solution for Plant Protection
    ACT student team: Andreas Markou, Bas Sijs, Haris Spyridis, Isabel Rigutto, Jacoline and Noortje Heidinga.
    Client: Michel Jansen & Cor Klaver (Woodchem-DeBroers) – Coach: Marjon van Opijnen – Academic advisor: Harold Meijer
  • Caffeine free coffee beans through genetic modification
    ACT student team: Nils Leibrock, Paul Mooijman, Joris Santegoets, Filemon Yusuf, Esmée Zutt and Xander Zuijdgeest.
    Client: Thomas Imison (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) – Coach: Josette Jacobs – Academic advisor: Jan Schaart
  • Valorisation of potato waste streams
    ACT student team: Ourania Michalopoulou, Annabel Oosterwijk, Alessia Ore, Hidde Politiek, Junjie Shi and Yudong Zhao
    Govert Harmoen (Kiremko) – Coach: Ramona Laurentzen – Academic advisor: Paul Struik

Learn more about these projects below:

PFAS bioremediation: Putting nature to work

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a growing problem in the Netherlands. These man-made compounds have useful characteristics, as being water, grease and dirt repellent, stable at high temperatures and non-flammable. However, when exposed to humans, these PFAS compounds can cause several health issues. Due to their persistent characteristics, it is very hard to degrade PFAS compounds. A recent discovery at Princeton University made clear that a bacterial species called Acidimicrobium sp. A6 is able to degrade PFOS and PFOA, the most abundant and most examined PFAS compounds. The main research question of the ACT student team during this project was: ‘What steps should be taken to apply Acidimicrobium sp. A6 in the remediation of PFAS in soil?’. The ACT student team provided an advice on the development of bacterial remediation technologies of PFAS contaminants in soil and groundwater in the Netherlands. Furthermore, they created a poster of the project.

The ACT awarding committee was impressed by the appropriate diverse research methods employed by the ACT student team. They made good use of both literature and international experts, which led to some new and good insights. It is a well written and clear report, going beyond the advice to the client. The client used the advice given by the students directly in an internal produced report and the report by the students was part of a presentation by the client at a national ‘bodembreed’ event where experts were present.

Delta21: A Dive into the Future of Dutch Nature

The Delta21 concept is an innovative plan that tackles three challenges (i.e. flood risk safety, sustainable energy storage and nature restoration) that can be applied to deltas and estuaries all around the world. This concept is also applicable in the Netherlands, as the so-called Delta21 Haringvliet project. In this project, an Energy Storage Lake will be built near the mouth of the Haringvliet and the Maasvlakte that can be used for storage of surplus water from the rivers and the sea as well as sustainable energy. The ACT student team had the task of advising Delta21 on the possibilities of establishing a sustainable and attractive nature park along the coast of Voorne and Goeree. The ACT student team wrote an advice on four pillars, namely 1) Park Regulations and Criteria, 2) Hydrological and Morphological processes, 3) Ecology and Nature restoration, and 4) (National) Park set-up, and designed a digital flyer.

The ACT awarding committee found that the ACT student team came up with impressive results. The ACT student team wrote a comprehensive, hands-on advice without compromising on scientific quality. The ACT student team was a multidisciplinary team, whereby they made extraordinary use of existing qualities. The advice had a beautiful and public-friendly design. The client took three main actions on the advice by the ACT student team: A follow-up ACT project was launched, the main results are integrated in the overall plan of the client and the client sought contact with a neighbouring initiative, which they did not know about at first.

Basic Substances as an Alternative Solution for Plant Protection

Due to the potentially harmful effect of pesticides, strict regulations on pesticide usage have been set within the Netherlands that have resulted in limited products on the pesticide market. However, the need for pesticides only grows with the increasing demand for food due to a growing world population. Basic substances appear to have a positive perspective in crop protection as a dynamic tool of integrative pest management (IPM), with little known risks to the plants or the environment. The client, Woodchem-DeBroers, asked the ACT student team to provide insight and knowledge in the mechanisms of basic substances in relation to their potential use in plant protection. Focusing on fungicides, 10 basic substances were selected. The ACT student team developed a decision support tool that enables one to select potential basic substance candidates for solo or combinational use in crop protection.

The ACT awarding committee found that the ACT student team succeeded in diving deeper in the actual question of the client and found a way to serve the client by answering his question and at the same time providing a tool that can be used in the longer run. The ACT student team was transdisciplinary and they maximized this in their ACT results by taking multiple relevant aspects into account. The decision support tool is being used by the client, as well as the scientific information.

Caffeine free coffee beans through genetic modification

Decaffeinated coffee can be created through decaffeination process, although this leads to additional expenses, reduced profits and altered taste. The client, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, asked the ACT student team to investigate the feasibility of using genetic modification to produce caffeine-free coffee plants and the risks and opportunities to integrate this new variety into the market. In order to investigate these two issues, the ACT student team wrote a review and a risk analysis. For the review, research questions where ‘What is the state of art in genetic modification of C. arabica and C. cenephora?’ and ‘How can the caffeine biosynthesis pathway be modified to produce caffeine-free coffee plants?’. For the risk analysis, the ACT student team provide a risk and opportunity analysis for Jacobs Douwe Egberts about introducing a gene edited, caffeine-free coffee product on the Western market.

The ACT awarding committee was impressed by what the ACT student team has accomplished. The scientific quality of the literature review was very good, towards publication. The ACT student team got excellent rewards from both client and coach: they found them real consultants and scientists. The client field the report to the company’s internal database and discussed at a few company meetings where research is often discussed. This resulted in further research on this topic. Furthermore, the academic advisor wants to publish the research that the ACT student team did.

Valorisation of potato waste streams

The client, Kiremko, is a Dutch company that produces total solutions in processing potatoes for products like French fries and potato chips. They deliver the machinery other companies use to produce fresh and frozen potato products. From the perspective of sustainability and value creation, Kiremko is very curious about the valorisation of waste streams in the potato processing industry. With this information, they aim to advise their customers and develop their machine portfolio. Kiremko asked the ACT student team to provide a better understanding of the technical and economic viability of the valorisation of potato processing waste and wastewater treatment of the client. The ACT student team wrote an academic report which was divided into three parts: (1) a market research, (2), the biorefinery processes, and (3) an economic analysis. The economic, regulatory and technical feasibility of on-site waste streams valorisation by biorefinery processes and wastewater treatment has been studied, taking a middle-sized potato processing plant as a model. Next to this, the ACT student team developed a poster for the client which shows the main results of the project clearly.

Given the fact that the ACT student team was not able to visit the clients company, the ACT awarding committee found it impressive how thorough and complete their advice was, both in terms of processes and financial value. The ACT student team involved both bioprocess aspects, economic aspects and legislative aspects. The client will use the report internally as part of their continuing strategy to expand their product/services. Furthermore, the poster will be on display in their offices.