Behind the PhD-degree: Ettore Virga

Cum Laude! Congratulations! Ettore Virga defended his thesis on ‘The relevance of surface chemistry in complex filtrations’, but who is he? The person behind the science, and the science behind the person.

Molecular sieving

For every barrel of oil, more than three barrels of so-called produced water are pumped up. Water used to bring up oil from the well, is contaminated with oil, salts and toxic compounds. “There is a need to clean up this massive waste stream”, states Ettore. Current methods require harsh chemicals that are not recoverable

Yet, there is a straightforward sounding way to get rid of these pollutants: filtration. By making use of membranes, you could separate the waste from the water. Like a molecular sieve, oil and natural impurities stay on the one side, while pure water is pumped out the other.

“There is a need to clean up this massive waste stream.

And as this filtration goes on, pollutants stick in and on the membrane, making it harder and harder to pump the produced water through. “This is called fouling of the membrane”, Ettore says, “a problem that is hard to take action to.”

Ettore has researched various ways to keep these meshes clean, centered on covering them in oil repelling coatings. “We focused on coating existing membranes, so that our knowledge could be directly applied on commercial products.”

He studied the effects of different model compounds on the filters, to simulate produced water on the coatings. “We studied how differently charged particles would interact with a charged coating”, Ettore explains.

 And that all in an impressive four years’ time, while also starting out as a theme coordinator.

Ever improving

But the experiments don’t stop in the lab. Ettore spends his spare time experimenting in the kitchen. “Food is really important to me”, says Ettore with a big smile, “I can’t stand eating a sandwich for lunch.” He spends at least an hour in the kitchen every day, mixing Italian and Spanish cuisine, with his wife, or just combining all sorts of flavors.

It all starts with ingredients. “I try to be aware of what I buy; check the country of origin of products and limit processed food”, states Virga, “I strive to be more sustainable.”

“And you have to respect the ingredients”, Ettore tells, “try to eat healthy, know what you eat. Whenever you buy processed food, let it be with a maximum of five ingredients. All of which you know”, he says.

“I strive to be more sustainable.

Despite the practice he is humbly hesitant to call himself a great chef, for he is still improving himself. A clear trend in Ettore’s life.

Striving for a better world

“Wetsus, with the courses it offered, has helped me a lot in my personal development”, Virga states. Ever more improving by reading personal development books on self-reflection, moral leadership and negotiation, he is constantly reflecting upon himself. Because he finds that changing the world, is not just a goal for science, but for scientists themselves too.

“Wetsus has helped me a lot in my personal development.

 “We live in a not sustainable capitalist society. European countries and industries are still exploiting less developed countries, applying there poor working conditions and remuneration”, Ettore zealously tells. “We should strive to limit our materialistic views and be aware of our environment, how we live, what we buy and where products come from”, he says as his passion for nature shimmers through.

Ettore tries to take inspiration from art and nature in his research and his life.

But it wasn’t always like this. During his studies as a chemical engineer, Ettore was focused on designing big chemical plants. “Wetsus ignited the fire that changed my mind; today I am more aware of what I eat, where I buy things, but I still want to become more active and involve more people. So far it’s just me in my house, with my choices. I can improve so much more.”

Though he modestly disagrees that he himself is already trying to improve the world by means of science. “I need to learn a lot more”, he says.

Ettore wants to pass this morale on too. Already enjoying his position as theme coordinator in Desalination and Concentrates, where he likes to further improve state-of-the-art knowledge in membrane science with his students. Plus he will contribute to the ConcenCUS, in which research on  CO2 capturing is a big part. “It’s a whole different sort of process, so it’s going to be a nice challenge.”

Towards an economy of value preservation | By Niels Faber


The realisation of a circular economy has thus far unfolded under the assumption that it would fit within existing economic arrangements. In practice, we witness many circular initiatives struggling to give shape to their ambitions, let alone develop to maturity. These past months, various material recycling organisations terminated their activities, seeing virgin alternatives from other parts of the world flooding the market at prices against they cannot compete. If the transition towards a circular economy (i.e. an economy of value preservation) is to be taken seriously, a new perspective on value in our economic system seems unavoidable, as the rewriting of the rules of the economic game. At this moment, current perceptions of value stand in the way of this transition both at micro as well as macro levels. Several contours for a collective exploration of new directions of value and economic configuration that foster circular transition will be addressed.

Searching Innovation for the Common Good | By Cees Buisman


In his key note he will conclude after a life of innovations that it is impossible that humanity will stay within the save planetary boundaries with innovation only. We should be more critical about the behaviour of the rich population in the world and more critical about new innovations that prove to be dangerous, like the PFAS crisis shows at this moment. In his keynote he will investigate how to look at the world that can stay within the save planetary boundaries, how should we change ourselves? It is clear if we only talk about the words of science and systems we miss the essential words of how we should cooperate and change ourselves. And his search for coherent save innovations. Which innovations will be save and will lead to a fair and sustainable world? And will lead to a world we want to live in.

Future-fit economic models: What do they have in common – how can they join forces? | By Christian Felber


There is a growing number of new sustainable, inclusive, cohesive, participatory, just and humane economic models. A possible next step in the discourse about them is the comparative analysis in order to find out key commonalities, potential synergies, and “requirements” for a future-fit economic model. The author and initiator of the Economy for the Common Good provides an overview of these „new sustainable economic models“ and compares them according to underlying values, principles, and practical ways of implementation. The keynote addresses the cooperative spirit of the conference and prepares the ground for its public highlight on the eve of June 3rd, the round table with representatives of diverse future-fit economic models.

The era of postgrowth economics | By Matthias Olthaar


The scientific debate on whether economies should always continue to grow increasingly becomes a political and societal debate. On the one hand further growth for the most affluent countries seems neither possible nor valuable, but on the other hand there is still lack of understanding and knowledge what a non-growing economy should look like and could best be governed. In this lecture we discuss various policy measures that can be realistically implemented, take into account government finances and aim at a higher quality of life despite a non-growing economy.

Democratic principles for a sustainable economy | By Lisa Herzog


Democracy is under pressure, and less and less able to stir the economy into a sustainable direction. Therefore, to stabilize democracy and to make possible the socio-ecological transformation of the economy, democratic principles need to be implemented directly in the economy. This is not only a matter of morality, but also has practical advantages. Democratizing the economy can increase legitimacy and take advantage of the “knowledge of the many” to accelerate the transformation. Democratic practices, especially deliberation, allow bringing together different forms of knowledge, which is crucial for the local implementation of principles of social and ecological sustainability. This talk explores what this idea means in more concrete terms, from democratic participation in the workplace to the democratization of time.

Market, state, association, and well-being. An historical approach | By Bas van Bavel


Over the past decades, markets have conventionally been seen as the best instrument to stimulate economic growth and enhance prosperity and well-being. The automatic link between markets and economic growth is increasingly questioned, however, as well as the automatic link between economic growth and enhancement of well-being. This has led to attempts to capture well-being development more directly than through GDP per capita figures and has produced a more variegated picture of well-being growth. Also, this has led to a shift of focus to other coordination systems than the market, as primarily the state but increasingly also the association. Analyses of the historical record suggest that especially the latter could be a vital component in future well-being.