veski's portraits of innovation

Mining his talent to make a difference

Considering he flies over the international dateline more of then than some Melburnians cross the Yarra, its fitting Dr Edwin van Leeuwen led the team at BHP Billiton which developed the worlds first airborne gravity gradiometer system for mineral exploration.

To Edwin, myopia is an anathema, and boundaries in all their forms are meaningless. “The big picture is not frightening to me and I’m not frightened to jump out of my zone of comfort. I explore my boundaries at work and I am a person who will do anything and put their heart and soul into it”.

Edwin, a world-renowned scientist, troubleshooter, and clean-energy entrepreneur, returned to Victoria with his wife Dr Silvana van Leeuwen and daughters Natasha and Lara. He is still fondly and firmly regarded as a member of the veski family even after moving to Western Australia to become managing director of major mining company Norilsk Nickel Australia.

When he makes one of his lightning-fast visits to Melbourne, he calls in to Milton House to regale one and all with tales from his travels to all points of the compass.

Edwin’s veski innovation fellowship, awarded in April 2010, brought him back from a Singapore-based role managing BHP Billiton’s global technology operations in Russia, China and India, to take up a position within the Melbourne Energy Institute of the University of Melbourne.

The fellowship intended to address all aspects critical to realising Victoria’s enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) potential by assembling and adapting pertinent technologies from related industry experience and by consolidating the skill base within the science, engineering and financial community in order to deliver a demonstrator EGS project in Victoria.

Cognizant of the fact he came directly from industry and therefore “wasn’t like other, more academic fellows”, Edwin is grateful to veski for “taking a bet on someone like me” because it provided an opportunity to understand geothermal energy – the area currently firing his passion and imagination.

So, where does someone with a fearless sense of adventure go after residing in Moscow, where ancient meets modern, rich abuts poor, and East collides with West? Returning home to the bathing boxes and village feel of Brighton may be too safe and predictable for one accustomed to Pushkin Square. Edwin is, instead, opting for Africa. The Great Rift Valley in Kenya, to be exact.

Edwin’s reasons for taking flight this time are scientifically imaginative, potentially lucrative, and definitely rock solid. His plan is to “take the risk of digging a big hole, releasing baseload clean energy and making a difference for mankind”.

A noble thought, but why not do it in his homeland? There’s no point arguing with the earth’s crust. He’d like to do it in Australia “but we’re just not as blessed as Kenya is geologically”.