In order to reduce their CO2 footprint, the chemical industry and brand owners in particular are looking for new, sustainable materials for their products. As there were no renewable aromatics commercially available at that point, VITO and TNO started the shared research centre Biorizon in 2013.
HIGH PURITY AND YIELD
It was important to test the ideas and to determine which technology development would be most suitable for the realisation of bio-aromatics. To this end, the Biorizon team – in consultation with the chemical industry – identified the most technically and economically interesting routes and products. We then began with technology development in the lab, where we make so-called furans from biological waste. This waste does not compete with the food chain at all but rather comes from waste streams such as animal manure and agricultural residual waste, for example.
As a raw material, furans are highly suitable for various types of functional bio-aromatics – no less than 40 percent of the chemicals for the chemical industry belong to the class of aromatics. We’re now producing these chemical building blocks with a very high purity in a process that also has a high yield. The chemical industry then processes them into new performance materials such as coatings, polyurethane foam or high-end lubricants. Additionally, they are used for various types of plastic.
CREATING NEW PROPERTIES
On a laboratory scale, such as in a test tube, necessary expertise is required to allow this process to function in the same way as in a continuous process on a commercial scale. Through intensive collaboration, our process technicians and organic chemists have succeeded in translating the chemistry of the lab into a demo facility with which we can produce several kilograms of bio-aromatics per hour for industry.
In the coming years, we will further expand this capacity. We are currently writing a business plan to scale up the technology to a demo facility of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6/7, with a production capacity of 50 to 100 tonnes per year.
In addition to gains in sustainability, the innovative aromatics have an additional advantage: they can take a different form to the aromatics produced with fossil raw materials using conventional petrochemistry. By starting with biomass as a raw material, these aromatics end up with a slightly different structure. This is interesting as a manufacturer could then also create new properties for their high-end lubricant, for example. Alternatively, they could offer better UV resistance for paint or greater flexibility for foaming in seats.
DO YOU WANT TO TAKE PART IN THESE DEVELOPMENTS?
The extra performance that we create in final products is what makes it so interesting to participate in Biorizon, although both options are ultimately possible: we can develop technology for drop-in aromatics with exactly the same molecular structure as is currently produced by petrochemistry or we can create new, functional bio-aromatics that cannot be made via traditional petrochemistry.
In our applied research, we work together with all parties in the value chain: raw material suppliers such as the sugar industry or manure processors, the chemical industry that wants to produce or procure bio-aromatics and the brand owners at the end of the value chain that purchase the new materials. We are happy to collaborate with any of these parties.