Bram Tankink was a professional bike racer for 18 years. This year marked the end of his career and the start of his role as an ambassador at Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen where he focuses on sustainability. His autobiography Tank was released this week, which he wrote with the help of Ralph Blijlevens. On the eve of the book presentation, we spoke with the former bike racer from Haaksbergen, who now lives in the Belgian town of Rekem, is married and the father of four children.
How did you end up at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus?
“When I was still racing, I set up a project in Nepal. Together with a group of entrepreneurs and investors, we went to Nepal to cycle up the mighty mountain Annapurna, but also to find out if we could build small power plants known as mini-grids which are based on solar energy for people without access to electricity. This sustainable project was a perfect match for what I want to do in my ‘new’ life: come up with sustainable solutions. As a result of this project, the Brightlands Chemelot Campus contacted me to ask if I might be interested in a position at the campus. I must have driven and cycled past the complex in Geleen a thousand times, often thinking that there must be opportunities there for sustainability. This area really offers potential for making an impact in the climate transition situation. So the offer really worked out well.”
What is your position and what is expected of you?
“Officially, I’m an ambassador. What’s in a name? People expect a lot more from me than just someone who will shake hands and visit companies. I have been hired to bring different parties together. Brightlands Chemelot Campus made an immediate impression on me. I didn’t know that there was such a large innovative campus here. The goal is to make the Chemelot site CO2-neutral by 2050. This is a huge challenge. The knowledge and skills are there, the complex is absolutely bursting with ideas and innovative companies and start-ups, but there is still a long way to go and still a great need for a lot of new innovations and technology. The trick is to bring all these different parties together. People apparently think I’m the right person to do this, and maybe they’re right. I also played a connecting role as the road captain of the racing team.”
Are there any concrete projects on the agenda?
“Definitely. Playing a connecting role at Brightlands Chemelot Campus also means getting projects started. We are currently working on a project to bring innovations to the built-up environment. This sector faces great challenges when it comes to sustainability. Houses have to be insulated, solar panels need to be installed on roofs and so on. The current technology isn’t good enough yet. We can do so much more in terms of better value for our money. The organizations at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus can do this based on new, sustainable material properties such as storing energy or improving energy absorption. This is essential if we want to make the energy transition from fossil fuels to sustainable sources. You can store energy using chemical processes in molecules such as hydrogen or other forms. Working at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, my job is now to study how we can bring the right parties together and work closely with them and the complex here to ensure that we can turn the world of the built-up environment on its head with new sustainable solutions. All of these efforts are driven by chemistry and materials.”
Your autobiography, Tank, will be released soon. What kind of book is it?
“I didn’t really feel a book was necessary, but Ralph Blijlevens of the newspaper Tubantia convinced me. The criterion was that I could tell my personal story. Tank isn’t about doping and doesn’t contain any revelations. To be honest, I really can’t stand books like that. Today’s cycling sport isn’t what it was during the ‘dark period’ ten or so years ago. It’s a wonderful sport for top athletes. Of course, part of the book covers this, but also personal things such as the sudden death of my father, my disabled sister and also the terrible period that I went through. It doesn’t have to become a bestseller; it does me good just being able to tell my story. Hopefully it can inspire others.”
So you’re also looking forward to your new career?
“A little, yes. I had just been contacted by Brightlands Chemelot Campus as I was writing the last chapter. I was writing about Nepal and my ambition to contribute to our world. It’s definitely a completely different role. Does this come easy to me? Yes, it does. There are a lot of similarities between high-performance sports and business. In sports, you have your own company, as it were, and at the same time, you have to be a team player. It’s the same in the business world. Brightlands is actually a partnership between business, students and scientists. It’s a unique model, and the one we need to make the transition to a sustainable society.