Report of Biorizon’s Annual Event 2017: from the lab to piloting

Due to the popularity and expansion of its Community, Biorizon had to move to a larger venue for the 4th edition of its annual event, held on 30 November. In a tastefully renovated old engineering workshop, located in the old port of Antwerp, representatives from industry, knowledge institutes and the government gathered for a state of affairs about the progress in Biorizon’s quest: technology development for the commercialization of bio-aromatics.


Enable commercial production by the industry in 2025

Biorizon brings together the expertise of the Dutch Organization of Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the Flemish Institute of Technology and Research (VITO) and the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN). It’s goal: to enable commercial production by the industry in 2025. Bio-aromatics are key to making the chemical industry (more) green, and less dependent on the petrochemical industry.

Multiplier effect

Joop Groen, one of Biorizon’s business development managers, shared a key message with the audience in his welcome speech. First things first: Biorizon’s activities get a serious boost due to the investment of 10 million euro by a joint collaboration of the province of Noord-Brabant, TNO, ECN and VITO. ‘This extra funding will be used to finance various projects designed to bring our ultimate goal closer’, explains Groen, ‘namely commercial production of bio-aromatics by the chemical industry in 2025.’

Thanks to the extra financial oxygen, Biorizon’s total budget increases to 35 million euro. ‘We also want to motivate the industry with our investment’, adds Bert Pauli, vice-governor of Noord-Brabant, so by giving the good example we hope to realize a multiplier effect. Open innovation is key in this research field. Individual stakeholders can’t do it on their own, so we need to strengthen the entire ecosystem.’

Biorizon horizon’s: thermochemistry, lignin and sugar/furans

Meanwhile, Biorizon sticks conscientiously to its roadmap, which is divided into three program lines, or ‘horizons’: thermochemical, lignin and sugar/furans. ECN’s Jaap Kiel kicks off with his presentation of the current state of play in the thermochemical production of bio-aromatics. In the subline of gasification, the Milena technology has proved its potential in converting biomass to both energy (in the form of biofuels and heat/electricity) and chemicals. Kiel: ‘In gasification, generally, the main focus lies on utilizing the main components in the product gas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane), but in fact the small fractions – although often treated as contaminants – actually represent very high value. I’m talking about “instant chemicals” like BTX and ethylene.’

Kiel announces the envisaged start of the construction of a new demo plant, called Ambigo, next year. The facility, which will be based in Alkmaar, will produce green gas. ‘Connected to Ambigo, the expertise centre InVesta aims at accelerating innovation for the large-scale production of chemicals and energy through biomass gasification’, says Kiel. ‘A perfect place to further develop technology for the selective removal of bio-BTX and bio-ethylene from the product gas.’

Kiel believes the selective removal of BTX and ethylene is ready for the next step: upscaling the production further towards 10-100 liters per hour. And he invites the industry: ‘Companies can join the technology development and have access to our test batches, so that they can assess the industrial potential of bio-BTX. From their feedback we can learn how our BTX fractions can match with existing industrial day-to-day practices.’

In the other subline, the pyrolysis of lignin, Kiel mentions the Calibra project, which aims to improve the fractionation process in the transformation of lignin-rich biomass into lignin oils. ‘Although there’s still a lot to learn here, we’re scaling up too. We are developing new pilot installations and already thinking about industrial application development.’

Proprietary and cost-competitive technology

Next on the agenda is Biorizon’s second program line: the production of bio-aromatics from sugars via furans. ‘Today we find ourselves at the level of small pilot plants where we can produce samples of several kilograms, which are ideal for market development’, says TNO’s Jan Harm Urbanus, one of the scientific manager at Biorizon. These pilot plants consist of proprietary and cost-competitive technology. ‘This is an important take-home message’, stresses Urbanus. He also adds that for some bio-aromatics, the team of RTO’s and companies has even discovered improved functionality, which could give rise to novel – “premium” – industrial applications.

This wide portfolio of bio-aromatics – with substances like hemi-mellitic acid, methylphthalic anhydride, isophthalic acid and phenols – is produced from furanics like furfural, levulinic acid and hydroxymethylfurfural, originating from carbohydrates contained within waste streams. The Waste2Aromatics consortium, a collaboration between waste and chemical firms that’s strongly involved in Biorizon, has developed a blueprint for a pilot plant that can be ‘fed’ with 50 to 100 kilogram of organic waste per hour. Urbanus: ‘We have designed two different reactor types, one for solid waste and one for slurry’s. And although a strong consortium is already planning for the engineering and construction of the pilot plant, we’re still open for partners who want to collaborate in this pilot project.’

With regard to the production of functionalized bio-aromatics, Urbanus mentions the BIO-HArT project, which offers interesting business opportunities for companies who want to be on the forefront of innovative bio-aromatics.

Help the industry to adapt

Stepwise upscaling is one thing, making the (conventional) chemical industry acquainted with bio-aromatics, is another. ‘In order to reach the goal of commercialization by 2025, we must help the industry adapt itself to our aromatics’, concludes Urbanus. ‘That’s why we’re currently preparing an investment in a demonstration facility that can produce 50 tons of aromatics per year. We stimulate the industry to co-develop possible applications and co-explore the economic picture of our approach. That’s our role as enabler in this ecosystem.’

Lignin biorefinery

Finally, the third program line: the transformation of lignin into aromatics. According to VITO’s Ludo Diels, who’s a scientific manager at Biorizon, there’s a huge amount of lignin in the world. The only question is how to valorize it. Diels mentions the ongoing Arboref, LF4Value and LigniOx projects, which all study the production of both new and drop-in molecules of industrial interest, within a novel ‘lignin-first’ biorefinery technology. Diels: ‘The biomass in the reactor gets solubilized and then depolymerized. The applications of the aromatics depend on their functionality. From alternatives for phenolformaldehyde and fire retardants towards bacterial agents of even anti-oxidants.’

Upscaling is also the current practice in this program line. Diels: ‘We’re building a large depolymerization facility in the port of Antwerp, which will produce several hundreds of kilograms a day. We invite companies to contact us and to discuss about their needs from our depolymerization, fractionation and conversion processes.

International collaboration

The message that Biorizon is constantly looking for new partners, is clear. The participants of the Community Event in Antwerp were treated with some examples of existing (inter)national cooperation, among whom Synova and Avantium. The Finnish Metsä Group, a leading producer of chemical pulp and sawn timber, sent Katariina Kemppainen to Antwerp to present her collaboration with Biorizon. ‘Lignin is the next phase on our innovation path’, says Kemppainen. ‘It’s applicable in plasticizers, phenolic resins, and even some composites.’

Another leading collaborator of Biorizon is Covestro, a German company specialized in the production of high tech polymers. According to Guido Naberfeld, Global Product Manager Polycarbonates, the replacement of petrochemical aromatics with a biomass source (instead of crude oil), will be an interesting business case for the future. ‘But to succeed in this, we need to work together along the entire value chain. It’s crucial that every partner in the collaboration thinks sustainable.’

A view beyond the horizon

After the lunch break, which was an inspiring networking session hosted by the Watify initiative, the participants enjoyed Ludo Diels’ final talk in which he provided a view beyond the horizon of roadmaps, program lines and funding milestones. ‘The best application of bio-aromatics would probably be in construction materials’, says Diels. ‘Concrete and steel industries are among the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide nowadays. So we can achieve a huge win if we replace certain materials by bio-based composites.’

And why not use more wood instead of concrete and steel in the building process? ‘If we can learn to produce bio-based resins, we can make carbon neutral materials like wood resistant and trustworthy. And if we look further along the road, we can see bio-materials popping up in the automotive industry (flax, for example), in 3D printing, in road construction, molecular motors, and yes, even in bio-based medicins. The range of applications is truly endless!’

Comprehensive summaries of the mentioned projects and collaborations are available to members in the Community Library.

The Biorizon Community: sign up today!

The Biorizon Community invites global leaders, SME’s as well as other knowledge and research institutions in the field of feedstock, conversion, equipment, intermediate and end products to join the Community (free of charge) via Help us to realize the transition towards bio-aromatics!

Community members can download the presentations of the 30 November event in the online Biorizon Community Library. If you have any questions or want to discuss how participating in Biorizon could help you to achieve your goals, please contact us


Biorizon’s Annual Event 2017 was a co-creation by Biorizon and Watify; an awareness-raising campaign, funded by the European Commission, to stimulate the technological transformation of Europe’s industry. Biorizon likes to thank Covestro, Biobased Network and Green Chemistry Campus for powering this event. 

The BIO-HArT project that was also presented on this event is established by a contribution of the European Interreg V Flanders-The Netherlands program that stimulates innovation, sustainable energy, a healthy environment and the labor market by means of cross-border projects. 



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