Léon Duvivier, expert in water chemistry and biology
From electromechanical engineer to doctor of chemistry
Léon Duvivier became deeply involved with chemistry on a work experience placement at the Baudour generating plant as a first-year electromechanical engineering student in his home country of Belgium. Aware of his excellent school results in chemistry, the plant manager assigned him to the laboratory, and unwittingly put Léon Duvivier on his lifelong career path.
“It was during one of these work experience sessions – I spent several summers in a row at the Baudour generating plant during my studies – that I had the opportunity to get involved with the first plant pipeline chemical cleaning project ever carried out in Belgium! It was a fascinating experience, and one that I have never forgotten.” The study of water quality and its impacts would become the subject on which Léon Duvivier would focus a great deal of energy and a large part of his career.
His guiding light – the laboratory manager – then offered him the opportunity to complete his final degree studies at ENGIE Lab Laborelec , the ENGIE dedicated electricity research center, working on a project to develop a new filtration process. The first task he was offered by ENGIE Lab Laborelec was the opportunity to take part in the ongoing design studies for the Tihange nuclear plant. The project goal was to identify a system that would minimize cooling system scaling, without creating any negative environmental impact for this closed-circuit generating plant.
It was the start of a 30-year career at ENGIE Lab Laborelec. There, Léon Duvivier would explore a broad range of subject areas, from combustion to biomass energy recovery, process regulation, and nuclear power plant and environmental chemistry, at the same time as studying for a doctoral degree, followed by further responsibilities as a lecturer.
“Far from being a solitary researcher locked in my laboratory,
I’ve always worked as part of a team alongside international experts from other companies,
and with field operators at the sharp end of the business…”
Cutting-edge expertise and collaborative working
As he began to build a unique level of expertise in his own specialist area, Léon Duvivier contributed to many international working groups.
He was asked by EDF to conduct research into cooling water treatment at the CHOOZ B nuclear power plant. He then highlighted the role played by the chemical composition of the river Meuse water abstracted by the power plant in the formation of deposits, and in doing so contributed to establishing ENGIE Lab Laborelec as a leading authority on these issues. He was called in by EURELECTRIC to draft the reference document on power generating plant cooling water treatment, which formed a major part of the authoritative BREF Cooling Water document published by the European Union. Léon Duvivier also contributed to the preparation of specifications for the US nuclear chemistry industry as a member of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where he represented the interests of Belgian operators.
Today, Léon continues to encourage and promote collaboration in every form, particularly through his contribution to many committees, including that of the Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences, the ENSTA Paris Tech engineering graduate school, the Faculty of Engineering at Mons University, Eurelectric and the Belgian Water Research Center (CEBEDEAU).
Management focused on helping others progress
So what’s his other area of expertise? It’s management. So in parallel with his career, Léon is also a visiting professor at the Ecole Polytechnique de Louvain.
“Coming from an industrial background, I like to put these future engineers in real-life situations where they have to analyze multiple criteria – technical, financial, safety, acceptability, etc. – as the basis for assessing their reasoning and decision-making skills. This approach has helped me to identify a number of really talented people, and I’ve already hired a lot of young people from this talent pool to work at ENGIE Lab Laborelec!”
At ENGIE Lab Laborelec, Léon Duvivier was required to take on managerial tasks at a very early stage. He is the person behind the formation of flexible, domain-focused small-scale entities that can be brought together to create cross-disciplinary teams to work on specific research projects. This organizational structure gives him the opportunity to shape the career development of talented young employees by giving them leadership of intermediate structures.
Neither does Léon have any hesitation in applying UK and US management methods. So he conducts twice-yearly people reviews and builds medium-term career plans that he then monitors as they develop.
It was by monitoring the career of one female employee in this way that he succeeded in identifying her as his replacement; a process that allowed Léon to weight the odds in his favor to ensure a successful handover.
What are values that he upholds and most wants to pass on to his employees? “Integrity, collaboration, attention to detail, daring and enthusiasm.”
“Dare and care is one of my mottos. It’s not my own invention,
but that of the much missed John Goossens, CEO of Belgacom“
His mission: identifying tomorrow’s technologies for ENGIE
Léon Duvivier’s other motto which he is now sharing within the ENGIE Research & Technologies Department is Together, we improve your future now. It sums up the challenge of his responsibilities rather well: “working now to identify and implement the technologies that will impact our future.”
As custodian of the medium- and long-term technology vision, he now works hand-in-hand with the Strategy team to identify new technologies which, by reaching maturity simultaneously, will impact the development of ENGIE going forward. The aim is to enable the Group to seize new opportunities, transform its business lines and – in short – be agile in repositioning all its activities to become consistently more competitive over time.
“Technologies are penetrating the energy market at increasing speed. That trend requires us to restructure the Group very quickly and change our viewpoint through 360°!”
In addition to his intense work ethic – 12-hour days seem to be another family trait trait that neither his son nor his doctor daughter would deny! – Léon Duvivier has two secrets that allow him to let go and release his creative side: visiting Romanesque churches and immersing himself in the natural world through painting and gardening, like Voltaire’s Candide. Because “cultivating his garden” also means working to change things at grassroots level. Tackling the reality of existing or future problems to solve them is precisely what Léon Duvivier has been doing for more than 30 years!
The ability to immerse himself so completely in his career has relied to a great extent on a wife who has always accepted his frequent and lengthy absences and kept a peaceful family atmosphere… and that substantial achievement is what Martine has been doing for 35 years.