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We meet Mohamed Takhim, a scientist and entrepreneur forging eco-friendly phosphate technology
Scientist and entrepreneur Mohamed Takhim created Ecophos when he was 20 and still a student. Based in Louvain-la-Neuve, it now has a turnover in excess of €135 million and is internationally renowned for cleaner, greener, phosphate extraction. Originally from Morocco, Takhim’s connection with Belgium dates from the age of 18, when he was awarded a gold medal at the Brussels innovation fair Eurêka.
How did you get interested in phosphates at such an early age?
You could say I was born to it, as I was born and raised in the city where the world’s largest phosphate mine is located, in Khourigba, Morocco. All around me I could see phosphate rock. On top of that, I was inspired by the chemistry and complexity of phosphate extraction by my father, who had a position at the world’s largest phosphate producer there, Office Chérifien des Phosphates.
You filed your first technology patent before you were 20. Did you realise then how far you would go in developing phosphate technology?
I always had it in my mind that we could find more environmentally friendly and efficient ways to extract phosphates, to reduce the waste we create and the cost of extraction.
At what point did you know it was going to be a success?
The industrial development of Ecophos accelerated around 2010. It took time for it to take off – around 15 years and €45 million of investment have produced processes that are efficient and very cost-effective at recovering phosphate in ores that are both rich and low in phosphates.
What has been one of your successes?
The reduction of the volume of waste with the extraction of phosphates. Instead of generating 6 tons of waste for 1 ton of phosphates, Ecophos promises to generate just 30kg.
What do you still want to achieve with Ecophos?
I want to carry on growing the company with the establishment of several phosphate plants worldwide and increase the number of clients who buy our technology licence. We have three plants in Europe, in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and France, and 10 reference plants worldwide. We are actively planning the construction of three future plants in China, India and Egypt.
What do you take inspiration from in your life?
I find nature inspires me very much. My favourite quote is by Albert Einstein: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
To follow my dreams.
What excites you about the future?
The progress of science in general and the progress that will produce clean technologies that go towards protecting the earth.
What worries you about the future?
How do you like to spend your free time?
I love to spend it travelling with my family.
Do you have a favourite book?
Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.
This article first appeared in Wab (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine