From left: Chair of the VILLUM FONDEN Jens Kann Rasmussen, Minister for Higher Education and Science Ulla Tørnæs, Professor Ib Chorkendorff, and President Anders Bjarklev. Photo:Sven Dumelie.

New research centre can create breakthroughs in fossil fuel alternatives

Thursday 11 Aug 16


Ib Chorkendorff
DTU Physics
+45 45 25 31 70

Anniversary grant

DKK 150 million over the next eight years from Villum Fonden to mark VKR Group’s 75th anniversary 

Partners in the VILLUM Centre for the Science of Catalysis for Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals are:

  • DTU
  • Stanford University
  • KU
  • University of Southern Denmark


The research at the centre focuses on solving two of the major challenges posed by the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

  • More efficient storage of renewable energy
  • Alternatives for the manufacture of chemicals, plastics and other materials which are currently produced using oil and coal

The key to both challenges will be to develop better catalysts to promote the various chemical processes. The centre’s research will be rooted in six subprojects, which employ different academic approaches, thus complementing each other in the work to improve catalysts.

A grant of DKK 150 million from VILLUM FONDEN will enable a group of the world’s leading researchers to seek new energy, fuel and chemical alternatives to replace oil and coal. The key lies in the optimisation of process catalysts, which will be the focal point of the centre’s research efforts. Ulla Tørnæs, Minister for Higher Education and Science, officially inaugurated the centre today.

Based at DTU, the VILLUM Centre for the Science of Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals is to be headed by Professor Ib Chorkendorff, who has brought together a team of leading international researchers from DTU, Stanford University, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Southern Denmark who have previously collaborated on energy and fuel research.

Ulla Tørnæs, Minister for Higher Education and Science officially inaugurated the centre today.

“The government’s objective is for Denmark to be fossil fuel independent by 2050. Research into new fuel and energy solutions is an important element in achieving the government’s green ambitions. It is crucial that we promote cross-border cooperation—both between public knowledge institutions and private businesses—and between countries. The new centre at DTU is a good example of this and I’m delighted by the substantial grant from Villum Fonden,” says Ulla Tørnæs.

Market leader in energy
Given its clear goal of being a leader in energy-related research, knowledge and technological development, DTU warmly welcomes the new research centre.

“DTU is Europe’s leading and the world’s second best technical university in Energy Science and Engineering. This is partly due to our extensive international collaboration, of which the new VILLUM research centre is a good example. The centre’s permanent staff will include both prominent Danish and international researchers, just as a large number of Danish and international experts in the field of energy technology development will undergo further training under the auspices of the centre,” says Anders Bjarklev, DTU’s President.

New workplaces
Over the next eight years, the centre will employ 75 young PhD students and postdocs who will provide new knowledge and competences—not least to the business sector.

“I’m also pleased to note that in the past couple of years the basic research in catalysts which will continue at the new centre has provided the basis for a couple spin-out companies from DTU focusing on catalysts—e.g. for diesel engines. Hopefully, the centre will continue to contribute to this form of innovation and lead to new job creation,” concludes Anders Bjarklev.

Protecting Earth's climate and the environment
The new research centre has come into being as a result of Villum Fonden’s anniversary grant of DKK 150 million (approx. EUR 20 million) marking the VKR Group’s 75th anniversary and is the foundation’s largest ever research grant. The hope is that the grant will contribute towards the long-term protection of the Earth’s climate and the environment—without the need to make drastic cuts in current energy consumption levels.

Vision of ground-breaking results
Denmark is a world leader in knowledge and the production of catalysts—and in combination with, among others, Stanford’s strong theoretical environment in the field—the researchers hope to be able to achieve extraordinary results.

“My dream is that the work in the new centre will result in a research breakthrough. It would be fantastic if we succeed in developing the technology so we can harvest 20 times as much energy using solar cells in a given area in the form of ethanol, for example, compared with what you can achieve with energy crops. Or to find a replacement for aviation fuel so you can fly without using fossil fuels,” says Professor Ib Chorkendorff.

He adds, however, that it is impossible to predict the course of future research over the next eight years. “In terms of research, we're entering virgin territory, so ground-breaking results can come from any number of fields.”


Villum Fonden is a non-profit foundation which supports technical and scientific research, environmental, social and cultural activities in Denmark and abroad.

In 2015, Villum Fonden donated DKK 608 million (approx. EUR 82 million) to non-profit purposes.

Villum Fonden was founded in 1971 by MSc Eng Villum Kann Rasmussen who developed the modern skylight VELUX® and established the VKR Group in which Villum Fonden is the majority shareholder. 

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