When Ke Wang started working at VITO two and a half years ago, she was the hundredth foreign employee, a milestone at the time. In the meantime, she has become very familiar with Flanders and the Netherlands (Ke lives in Eindhoven with her Italian husband and their two children). “But learning Dutch is still the biggest challenge for me. I’m definitely doing my best, but everyone speaks such good English here!”

Amongst other things, you work on business models for ‘circular building’. What does that involve exactly?

When you think of circular building, the first thing that comes to mind may be houses and buildings built from recycled materials and raw materials That’s true to a certain extent, but it’s not the whole story. We ultimately also want to prevent buildings from being demolished prematurely (long before they have become run-down and worn-out) to make way for new buildings. This is common practice in our modern construction culture. With our circular approach, buildings are not demolished, but rather their function is changed. For instance, a hotel may be converted into an office building, or a community centre may be converted into a school. Of course, this approach only works if the original design and building plan is already transfunctional and modular in nature.

What is the aim of this?

We want to be able to convince clients or real estate agents that circular building represents an attractive investment. Because, in the end, the success of circular building stands or falls with the competitiveness of the business model.

You are also the coordinator of another European project, named CIRCUSOL. What is this project about?

In this project, managed by VITO, we develop circular business models for the solar power industry. Here too, everything revolves around recycling and reuse, of solar panels and batteries from electric vehicles, for example. And here too, we want to ensure that the circular approach becomes a logical choice, from an economic perspective. The boom in solar power and (further down the line) electric vehicles means more raw materials, energy and waste flows. In order to make them sustainable, we can evolve from a product-based business model to a more service-oriented model.

The business behind the circular economy – this certainly contrasts with your training as a physicist at the prestigious Stanford University in the United States.

(laughs) I’m certainly not an architect, let alone a financial advisor. In Eindhoven, I worked as an applied physicist at Philips for a number of years. I worked in R&D in the healthcare department there, on modern medical equipment, amongst other things. During a part-time MBA course at the Rotterdam School of Management four years ago, however, I realised that I personally attach great importance to the environment. I then began to search for vacancies, and that’s how I ended up at VITO.