Considerable interest in biobased aromatics

04 Dec 2015

The Biorizon event entitled ‘Functionalized Biobased Aromatics,’ which took place on 17 November at the Green Chemistry Campus in Bergen op Zoom, focused on the progress and challenges in the area of biobased aromatics. Whilst current developments show promise, further progress is required before the production of sustainable biobased aromatics from sugar and lignin can become commercially viable.

The number of participants in the event was in itself evidence of the growing interest in biobased aromatics; comprising stakeholders from SMEs, big industrial players, government agencies, and research and technology institutes throughout Europe. Alongside presentations demonstrating the progress made and most significant developments, participants were able to discuss their visions for this area of research during breakout sessions.

International cooperation

According to Willem Sederel there is a big market for biobased aromatics

Willem Sederel, Chairman of Biobased Delta, demonstrated with reference to a study by Deloitte that there was a market for biobased aromatics. Under the banner ‘Agro meets Chemistry,’ Biobased Delta in the south-west of the Netherlands is working on increasing the economic value of agro residual flows in biobased innovations. The region forms an ideal base for the continued development of the sector, being the home to agro and chemical companies, knowledge institutions, and facilitating government agencies. However, the level of cooperation is not restricted to the neighbouring parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, but involves cooperation at an international level with parties from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil. ‘There is a place for north-western Europe in the fermentation-based chemical industry. But it requires collaborative work,’ emphasises Sederel.

Processing sugar and lignin into aromatics

Large steps forward have been made. Biorizon Community’s budget, number of projects, and headcount are growing. In addition, a number of different patents have been granted, patent applications have been filed, and a variety of sugar and lignin samples have been produced. The Community’s mission is to enable the commercial production of biobased aromatics by 2025. A new road map focuses on three aspects: sugar/ furan technology, lignin technology, and thermo chemistry. ‘We are still at the laboratory stage. The next steps will be aimed at upscaling, first to kilosamples and then, in around 2020 to 2022, the first pilots/demos should be up and running. There is good collaboration between the different parties and we are happy with the results,’ explains Jan Harm Urbanus, program manager at TNO.

Projects with businesses

Business interest was clear from the presentation given by Geert De Roover of the Flemish ChemStream. This organization is participating in the MAIA project, where efforts are aimed at the conversion of wood and flax into biobased aromatics. The type of wood used will influence the output and the type of monolignol formed, enabling the production of various biobased aromatic compounds.
Within another Biorizon project under the name ‘Waste2Aromatics,’ Attero, AEB Amsterdam, Orgaworld, the Dutch Waster Management Association, and TNO are investigating how municipal and industrial waste streams can be used as a source for the production of biobased aromatics. The project’s aim to enable conversion of organic waste into furans is showing signs of promise. ‘We want to move on from burning to a more sustainable method and thus contribute to a circular economy,’ explains Sietse Agema, strategic adviser at AEB Amsterdam.

Breakout sessions

Following the presentations, participants formed groups to discuss the requirements for a successful biobased aromatics sector. To make investment in biobased aromatics an attractive proposition, it is important to be able to have the guarantee of supplies, the flexibility in raw materials, and a reduction in costs. The substitution of harmful molecules can also be a reason for investment.
The question is this: what is required for a successful bio-aromatics business case in the mid to long term? Factors that were mentioned included a robust technology, a guaranteed supply of raw materials, a competitive price in an existing market, a legal framework, and joint ventures. Participants concluded that what was first needed was a reasonably simple business case as a means of generating confidence.

Join the Biorizon Community

Interested businesses are invited to join the Biorizon Community free of charge via From the Community Library you can download the presentations and the results of the breakout sessions. Community members will also automatically receive invitations to future events. Finally, the website includes an overview of all projects in which Biorizon is involved as well as projects that are still open for partners to join.

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Our work

Shared Research Centre for Biobased Aromatics

On the Green Chemistry Campus, VITO and TNO gave the green light in 2013 for a Shared Research Centre for Biobased Aromatics. The two centres of expertise, in close cooperation with business and industry,... Read more

Feedstock flexibility

TNO works for and with businesses on the flexibility in use of raw materials. This is necessary to produce more sustainably and be less dependent on resources such as fossil building blocks. A broader... Read more

Sustainable Chemical Industry: reducing cost and time to market

TNO helps the chemical industry to innovate by enabling businesses to reduce costs and get new products to the market faster. Businesses looking for new products or production processes turn to TNO for... Read more

Dr. Jan Harm Urbanus

  • chemistry
  • chemical engineering
  • aromatics
  • Biorizon
  • crystallization

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