Marcel van Heesewijk is one of the major Pongamia entrepreneurs in the world. He was the inspiration for his niece and nephew to start their own company; The Corekees Foundation. Marcel dedicated his life to the CO2-absorbing and oil-producing Pongamia tree, which we at Corekees also use. His story is unusual as it is adventurous. This is the first part of our two-part Treetalks with Marcel.

– By Kees Rottinghuis

Marcel was born in Brazil. Although both his parents were Dutch, he didn’t speak the language or saw the country until he was six. “The first time I came to the Netherlands was by boat in Rotterdam on a misty cold December day.”

After studying Economics in Groningen and doing an MBA in Paris Marcel’s affinity for tech led him into software. He started working at Siemens, but he always wanted to do his own thing. So, he set up his own company; SourcingLink. “We had developed a nice software application for retailers and brought the company to the US stock market. We raised quite a bit of money.” He’s quite modest; the company was valuated at 300 million US dollars. One of the biggest retailers in the world and his biggest client breached the contract with Marcel. A legal battle followed. “We won, but it was already too late.” Marcel jokingly tells he then sold what was left of the company.


“We won, but it was already too late”


This attitude ensured that Marcel was already looking forward and planning his next venture. “The time to start up in hi-tech, with little to no capital, was gone. When I started that was still feasible but not anymore. So, I wanted to shift away from tech to land. I saw land, mainly agricultural land, as the next scarce resource and South America has a lot of it.” In essence, he was going back to his roots.

Marcel was preparing the ground for a different agricultural project when he met someone on an agricultural conference who was working with the Pongamia pinnata tree, which produces biodiesel and protein while also absorbing a lot of CO2. “He was working with this new energy crop on non-food land. It was very practical, he had a few pods and showed them to me. He connected the dots of the peak of fossil fuels and the use of non-food land. The concept as a whole came together quickly. You have a whole list of stuff you then want to crosscheck against all the opportunities you see.”

South America was the perfect fit. “It is the best place in the world where you can reach scalability in a professional manner. It has enormous land availability and a very professional agriculture. That’s how the idea started off.”

The Chaco, a region in the North of Paraguay, was best situated, so he went scouting. First, he went to a Paraguayan contact, Rodrigo, and told him about the project. Rodrigo thought he was crazy: “How can you do something like that in the Chaco, there is only cattle, and nothing grows, it’s very hostile.” Yet he still helped Marcel to find his way around the Chaco.

“So, with Rodrigo’s help we went through the Chaco. But you cannot just go there, there are no paved roads, you have to wait until there is not too much rain. And there are no hotels there, so you need an estancia (farm in Spanish, red.) that is willing to house you. We made a weeklong program. We did 3000 kilometres over sand roads, took soil samples and looked at different vegetations.”



Potential areas for Pongamia sites were identified and test areas were made. “We needed a tree nursery in Paraguay and were able to use the nursery of the University in Asunción. That was our first disaster.” Marcel laughs, “Everybody went on holiday and nobody watered our plants. So straightaway we lost half of our trees.”


“So straightaway we lost half of our trees”


That didn’t hold him back a bit and he continued his test sites, whilst also searching for own land to build a nursery. “We wanted land that had access to a natural source of water, because for a tree factory you need a lot of water. You also need to stay easily accessible; there are farms in the Chaco that are unreachable for six months per year. So, we decided early to be next to the river.”

He and Fredy, his current reforestation site manager, were driving around searching for the right spot. “In the beginning we were looking in the North. As we went there, there was an earlier road going to the river and I said to Fredy: ‘Let’s go to the river here’. He had never been there. We went another 70 km to the river and took a little river taxi and just looked around.” There they found what they were looking for, next to the Rio Paraguay, close to the town of Porto Murtinho, with high riverbanks.

“But that was the easy part. There was nothing there. We had to build everything from the ground up. We rented a boat and went there every day. We didn’t even know how far back our land went at the beginning. We couldn’t get through. A neighbour lent us his horses so we could look around. We went waist deep through the mud and water. Every stone that is there had to be brought in by boat from Brazil. We built the farmhouse, the greenhouses, everything.”

All the hard work and setbacks never seem to affect Marcel. Not losing his $300 million-US-dollar company, losing half his plants or simply being miserably soaked and cold in the middle of nowhere. It’s his inexhaustible drive that keeps propelling him forward and makes him successful. But after building his own farm, he still had to work out how to become the biggest Pongamia producer in the world. You can read more about that and his drive and frustrations around climate change in our next interview with him.

Checking the greenhouse



Tamar at the tree nursery


Working at KPMG in the Corporate Finance department for four and a half years, after studying Financial Economics at the Erasmus University, Tamar was all settled. Then her cousin came, and it all changed. “My path was laid out for me. My future was secured. Then Nick came back from the Reforestation Site in Latin America and changed everything.”

Nick’s idea was to start a company that plants trees, which absorb CO2 and simultaneously generate decent profits for their clients. “He needed a ‘finance’ person and that had to be me. To be honest, at first, I was sceptical. I was all settled at KPMG, but eventually I came around to the idea. Instead of just pushing numbers around, I wanted to make a difference in the world. I just thought that was for a later stage. Then I realised; I can do it all now; with Corekees.”

“I went from sitting behind a desk making Excel sheets and Powerpoint presentations to actually being part of the world.” That doesn’t mean she isn’t still working the numbers. “Corekees’ finances are my responsibility. I make the models for tree pricing and financial projections for example. I’m still sitting behind a desk, but in a very different way. In order to do something about climate change, we have to start with ourselves. With Corekees we want to stimulate everyone to do something good for the environment. We are trying to make people aware of their emissions and give them a way to deal with it. Most people have no idea what they are actually polluting. One tree is already a first step. We all should and can tackle the problem, that’s why we started Corekees.”


“I went from sitting behind a desk to being an actual part of the world”


Tamar easily and quickly explains the whole business model, and simultaneously demonstrates why Nick wanted her but also needs her at Corekees. “One tree is $17.50, but you don’t buy an actual tree. You purchase the right to all profits from the tree. Each year all the trees are harvested, and the nuts crushed to extract their crude oil. The leftovers from the crushing are used as fertilizer and protein feed for the local cattle. Each tree is a bond of $17.50, from which $10 goes straight to the planting of the tree. The first four years the tree needs maintenance, which costs $1 per year. Furthermore, $1.50 dollar is for the administration, $1 dollar to transaction and conversion costs and $1 is the management fee. So, you loan the money and the profits from the tree will be payed to you as an interest on your bond. The interest is variable, depending on the harvesting profits of the tree.”

Visiting the trees on horseback

“We expect a return on investment of 9-11%. The first three years there are no profits, as the tree has to mature; it is an agricultural product after all. The remaining 17 years, profits increase gradually, which results in an average of 9-11% per year for the total of 20 years. Total profits are expected to be over 300% in the full lifetime. After 20 years the trees go to the local farmers on who’s land the trees are planted. This way, they will keep compensating CO2. The farmers in Paraguay can then receive the profits of the trees. That is another benefit, that we are also helping the locals over there.”


Tamar is happy with the progress that Corekees has made in its first year. “Now we are really selling trees. We have sold over 10,000 trees, which exceeded our projections. We are also setting up a corporate platform, which will go live next quarter.”

“That is another benefit, we are also helping the locals over there”

The idea behind the corporate platform is that corporations can make themselves climate neutral in a very easy way. “Even if companies don’t know what their emissions are, we can calculate that for them and offer them a personalised ‘Carbon Off-set Program’. The profits of the trees can be reinvested into new trees, creating an infinite tree loop and by doing so exponentially reducing CO2. Profits can also be given to an NGO or corporations can keep the profits themselves. Most companies want to act on climate change and consumers are demanding action more and more, but there aren’t a lot of options out there right now. We are changing that!”

Holding a tree that’s about to be planted

– By Kees Rottinghuis –

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– By Kees Rottinghuis – 

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Hans van der Loo visited us to provide guidance and advice. Hans is an energy and sustainability expert and former Vice President at Royal Dutch Shell, where he initiated Shell V-power. He frequently speaks for world and business leaders, for example at the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) and the World Economic Forum. We would like to share some of his sobering insights with you.

“There are three fields in play with climate change. First of all, it is very hard physics and chemistry. The second it is economics but the most important field is the social science. Climate change is the result of our behaviour and choices.

Stopping climate change used to be something we should do for our children, but we are past that stage now. It’s not something for the next generation. We need to become more aware of our ecosystem. Not just because of guilt but also a sense of survival. It’s not about doing this for our children anymore. No, we should do this for ourselves.

The difficulty is that climate change is a long-term problem and people tend to favour the short term. I think we will go through a course of collateral damage before we really take action. That is rather sorry, but sometimes we need to burn our fingers to know something is hot. You then learn not to make that same mistake again. Unfortunately, getting hurt helps. This summer, for instance, was really hot but it hasn’t caused real collateral damage. Most people have forgotten it already. It has to infiltrate our behaviour. You won’t forget the year your house collapsed.


“We will go through a course of collateral damage before we really take action.”



Living in the wealthy part of the world, we are not feeling the pain at the moment. Others are, like the people in the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu.

They will see their countries completely disappear below sea level and it’s not their fault.

With their lifestyle, their footprint is nowhere near the world’s average and even further from ours. Your lifestyle determines the size of your footprint. Wealthy nations have a dis-proportionatel big impact on climate change.

If everyone lives like an American we would need 5 planets. If everyone would live like a European we would need 2.5 planets. Only because a huge proportion of the world lives below the average we now need 1.7 planets to live on. Still not enough; we only have one. Make no mistake, the planet is not on the line. Earth will continue for billions of years. But whether the ecosystem – which we as a species need – will survive, is a very big question mark.



Ensuring our survival is a simple calculation. If we don’t spend now, we will have to spend a lot more later on. We will need to be conscious about it and then convert that consciousness into lifestyle choices. This will come in three steps. The first is living your life as you are now but with a smaller carbon footprint. That is already great. These are small changes you barely even notice. The next step has to do with behaviour. Consuming more consciously and knowingly. Changing our lifestyle, but still not a real material change.

Those are the easy parts. But the third step will about parts of personal consumption that will really change our lives. It will start hurting, like infringements on our consumption patterns that we do not desire. Our planet provides enough for everyone’s need. But not for everyone’s greed.

The quicker we can take the first two steps, the further we can push away the last step. That last step will be inevitable this century. When exactly, depends on what we will do now.


“We are all on the same ship. It doesn’t matter who you are, your destiny is linked to that ship.”


The most difficult is to reduce CO₂. Offsetting emissions is already a good step but it is not enough. Best is to over-offset emissions, reducing CO₂. So I am taking out more CO₂ and leaving a margin for people, who cannot afford that.

Corekees’ trees, Pongamia, are a way of CO₂ mitigation. Our current economic system requires high-density energy in the form of hydrocarbon molecules. Pongamia also produces hydrocarbon molecules but made in a very nice way. And of course we can never believe that Pongamia will be the solution to all our energy problems but it is a non-regret route. That is to say, come hell or high water I will not regret it. Non-regret options are the best options you can make in your life.

The opposite is a sure-regret option, whatever the future will be we will regret it. It is surprising how many of those we make. We lack this proper foresight and realistic discounting. Not taking action against climate change is one of those. The longer we wait, the costlier it will be – and not just financially. We know that! And yet we are completely paralysed.

We are waiting for others to start first, like the prisoner’s dilemma. We are all on the same ship. It doesn’t matter who you are – the captain, the bellboy or a first-class passenger – your destiny is linked to that ship. More people should get this awareness.

Now is the best and cheapest time to take action. Ten years ago was even better but unfortunately, we cannot go back. The task ahead is making sure we do the right things in order to reach the end of this century in a civilised and peaceful manner. That is a huge task that requires all hands-on deck!”



My trip to our reforestation site

Corekees’ Editor Kees Rottinghuis on his visit to the trees

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By Kees Rottinghuis 

At The Corekees Foundation,  we offer carbon compensating, fuel producing trees. Our tree is known for its ability to absorb CO2 – or carbon. Furthermore, the nuts on the trees contain crude oil. This oil is used as renewable fuel; a direct alternative to fossil fuels. The combination of replacing fossil fuels and absorbing carbon, makes these trees about as green as it gets. 

This summer I traveled to our reforestation site, Estancia Santa Rosanna in Paraguay. This is how it exceeded my expectations:



It’s quite the trip. First the eleven-hour flight to Sao Paulo, followed by another flight to Campo Grande. A five-hour drive to Porto Murtinho and from there a short boat ride on the Rio Paraguay. Combined, these emissions are the equivalent of seventeen trees, which I bought just before take-off. It is a beautiful journey but a long one nonetheless.

Once you arrive though, it immediately feels worthwhile.

Our Estancia (that is Spanish for farm) is where everything tree-related takes places. It is where the greenhouses, nursery and most of the reforestation areas are. Also, the cloning of the trees, genetic research, planting and eventually crushing of the nuts for the crude oil takes place there. This makes being there exciting, there is a real buzz about the place and you feel right in the middle of it all.

Estancia Santa Rosanna is located on the Paraguayan side of the Rio Paraguay, with Brazil at the opposite side. The location plays a crucial role. The seedlings need a lot of water and there is plenty; approximately 30 million liter flows through the river every second. But the river is also a very easy way for transportation. Ships with large barges can come to collect oil and directly ship it off to oil companies. A few hundred meters upstream there is a little island that is used as a natural roundabout for the freight ships to turn.

Estancia Santa Rosanna


The water also plays a crucial role for power at the estancia. Electricity comes from the hydroelectric power station at the Iguazu waterfalls. So, at the estancia we are not only sequestering CO2 but also running on clean energy.

At the time of my visit, the temperatures were in the high 20 degrees, quite comfortable. In the summer temperatures can run up to 50 degrees, which is quite unpleasant for us but great for the trees.



There are a few important local people that keep the estancia going and give it such a great atmosphere. It is a relatively young team, which means a lot of energy and fresh set of ideas.

In charge of managing the estancia is Federico ‘Fredy’ Montoya, who seems to know everyone. He used to be a Paraguayan footballer and even played for the national team, which probably helps getting to know so many people in football-crazy South America. Fredy is also in charge of the reforestation areas, which he inspects regularly on horseback. So, his job becomes more encompassing as more and more trees are sold. But like the sportsman he is, he is impatient for the challenge.

Humberto Pagliosa is the Tree Production Manager. As a forest engineer specialized in greenhouse and nursery operations, it is his job to ensure an ever-increasing production. This means he is constantly tinkering with new and improved ways of planting and nurturing seeds and trees.

A concentrated Humberto


Another important figure at the estancia is Francisco Vergara. He is in charge of the genetics of the trees. This means that he is looking for the best genes to ensure a high fuel production but also a high survival rate. Francisco travels a lot to find the best Pongamia trees, like recently to India and Australia. Because of Francisco’s work our Pongamia trees are getting better and better.


Fredy, Humberto and Francisco are crucial for the tree and oil production process. And it’s quite the process. All trees are clones. This means they are cut from so-called mother trees, which are selected by Francisco because of their genetics. These cuttings have to be made in a very specific way. It requires a few weeks of training. At first, this was done by men, but they were too rough-handed. Women proved far better at it. The estancia uses as much local labour as possible and they are paid above average wages, which is unique for the region. So, the estancia is becoming a popular place to work.

Trees waiting to be planted


After the cuttings have been made, they are potted and placed in a greenhouse for 2 months, where they are watered with a thick mist. Next, they are re-potted to bigger pots and placed out in the sun for about 6 months. The trees are then ready to be planted. We plant our trees on the land of local cattle farmers. According to Paraguayan law, farmers need to reforest 50% of their land so we offer an easy solution to that. The only sacrifice farmers have to make is that they cannot use the land for the first year after planting, because the trees need to grow and not be trampled by the cows. After a year the tree is resilient enough to survive. All of this means we have farmers lined up to join.



I thought I knew a lot about Pongamia and the whole process but being at Estancia Santa Rosanna was eye-opening. There is so much more going on than can easily be explained, from details about the genetics to the massive undertaking of planting thousands of trees. The whole operation is thought through and very well structured. Every single question I asked was answered immediately. I can’t wait to come back next year and see the progress made, even though I have no questions left. 

Farewell but not goodbye





Stichting Corekees maakt hét alternatief voor fossiele brandstoffen uit bomen voor iedereen toegankelijk. In Amsterdam zijn neef en nicht van Heesewijk Stichting Corekees gestart. De Pongamiaboom is dubbel duurzaam; naast de hoge CO2-compensatie produceert de boom een donkergroene vervanger van fossiele brandstof. De opbrengsten vallen de bomenkopers ten deel.

Momenteel gebruikt Europa drie keer zoveel grondstoffen als de aarde jaarlijks produceert. Circa 80% van alle energie komt uit fossiele bronnen, waarmee de dominantie van fossiele brandstof onomstotelijk is. De noten van de Pongamiaboom bieden mogelijk de oplossing. De noot produceert ruwe olie, waaruit een direct en groen alternatief voor fossiele brandstof geraffineerd wordt; geschikt voor auto’s, schepen en vliegtuigen.

De Pongamiaboom heeft, op de palmboom na, de hoogste oogstopbrengst van alle olieproducerende gewassen. De boom heeft – in tegenstelling tot palm – een positieve impact op het milieu. Waar de meeste plantaardige oliegewassen voedselproductie belemmeren, wordt de Pongamiaboom alleen geplant op grond ongeschikt voor voedsel.




Over Corekees

In de zomer van 2016 ontstaat het idee voor Corekees onder een boom aan de oever van de Rio Paraguay; de rivier tussen Brazilië en Paraguay. Met de voeten in de klei bedachten neef en nicht om de boom in te zetten om duurzaamheid aantrekkelijk te maken voor het grote publiek. De gezamenlijke liefde voor de dubbel-groene boom en de uiteenlopende vaardigheden van neef en nicht worden bij Corekees ingezet om het verschil te maken in een wereld die daar klaar voor is.


– Niet voor publicitaire doeleinden –



Voor meer informatie of interviewaanvragen kunt u contact opnemen:

Nick van Heesewijk // 020 244 0311 //


– Dutch translation below –


Are you persistent, creative, innovative and able to work independently? Corekees is looking for interns who can handle responsibility, likes active participation and is self-sufficient.

Corekees is a young company that offers (Pongamia) trees to both consumers and corporates. These trees grow nuts, from which crude oil is crushed as the base for green, renewable fuel; a direct substitute to fossil fuels.

Do you want to develop and execute a marketing strategy? Are you eager and able to identify & approach target audiences? Do you have affinity with (social) media, content, relations with partners, journalists and large companies? Apply for an internship at Corekees.

  • 16 to 40 hours a week
  • Internship allowance included
  • City centre or Rotterdam (Groot Handelsgebouw)
  • Start date: between December ‘18 and February ‘19 (by mutual consent)
  • Period: 10 to 30 weeks (by mutual consent)

Key words: marketing, social media, entrepreneurial drive, design, innovation, creativity, energy, independence, growth, strategy, content, table tennis.

– Dutch Version –


Werk je graag zelfstandig, bezit je doorzettingsvermogen, creatief denkvermogen en houd je van innovatie en vernieuwing? Corekees is op zoek naar stagiaires die verantwoordelijkheid aankunnen, mee willen denken en zijn/haar eigen gewicht kunnen dragen.

Corekees is een jong bedrijf dat (Pongamia)bomen in de markt zet. Aan deze boom groeien noten, waaruit ruwe olie geperst wordt als basis voor groene brandstof; een direct alternatief van fossiele brandstof.

Ben jij in staat een marketingstrategie te bedenken en uit te voeren? Vind je het mooi om doelgroepen te identificeren en benaderen? Word je enthousiast van (social) media, content, contact met partners, journalisten en grote bedrijven? Solliciteer dan op een van de stageplekken bij Corekees.

  • 16 tot 40 uur per week
  • Inclusief Stagevergoeding
  • Centrum Rotterdam (Groot Handelsgebouw)
  • Startdatum in periode december ’18 – februari ‘19 (in overleg)
  • Duur: 10 tot 30 weken (in overleg)

Kernwoorden: marketing, social media, ondernemersdrang, innovatie, energie, zelfstandig, groei, strategie, content, tafeltennis.