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, will develop technology for the production of aromatic compounds from biomass.
Biobased aromatic compounds will make a significant contribution to sustainability. They are especially important as a raw material for plastics, coatings and specialty chemicals. Producing them from biomass presents a major technological and economic challenge. TNO is aware of a great need for these compounds in industry. Companies are eager to enhance the sustainability of their products and processes, and the dynamics of supply and demand have resulted in higher prices for petroleum-based aromatic compounds. Some research is being conducted into biobased aromatics, but this is taking place on a small and fragmented scale. TNO and VITO will be taking the bull by the horns through their involvement in the Shared Research Centre. In just a few years, fifty technologists from VITO and TNO will work together in an atmosphere of open innovation with workers from companies who join in the initiative. The centre will grow into a leading global research hub that will ensure that biobased aromatic compounds will be available for use in more and more products.
The Shared Research Centre is located on the Green Chemistry Campus in the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom, a part of Biobased Delta where a number of businesses, institutions and government agencies collaborate on the biobased economy, and it is strategically located between the industrial centres of Rotterdam and Antwerp. TNO has analysed market demands and is now identifying the most technologically and economically advantageous strategies. A tremendous amount of innovation will be needed in order to ensure the commercial success of biobased aromatic compounds. The business community is very enthusiastic for these developments. Twenty leading companies in the chemical and biotechnology sectors were present at the kick-off. Biobased aromatic compounds are currently not being produced on a commercial basis, so expectations for the research centre are high. By late 2013 at least five industrial parties should be involved, and a large group of technologists from VITO and TNO are already hard at work.
TNO is strongly committed to this initiative which will help the institute contribute to breakthroughs that will make chemistry more sustainable. TNO is an independent, multidisciplinary institute that combines knowledge of biotechnology, chemistry, process technology, applications and a flair for collaboration. TNO is one of the few players that already has ten years of experience in shared research in various fields. Together with VITO, TNO can rely on an even stronger expertise base and a major international industrial network. Later this year the most important programme lines for developing biobased aromatic compounds will be identified. This will involve both bulk and specialty products. TNO also expects the first laboratory results by the end of the year. All research at the centre is squarely results-oriented: pure science is secondary to industrial applicability. Although there have been quite a few initial expressions of interest, TNO expects many more companies, from large to small, to join the initiative. TNO has a unique knowledge infrastructure and a strong ecosystem of cooperating parties.