Polymerisation pilot facilities accelerate development of bio-based materials

The polymerisation of bio-based monomers is an important step in making resins and coatings from plant materials which can compete with their fossil counterparts. Two new Dutch initiatives are aimed at realising an open access pilot plant for polymerisation.

Polymerisation pilot facilities accelerate development of biobased materials. Source: Wageningen University & Research -

The catalyst for both initiatives is the Biobased Performance Materials research programme, coordinated by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. The programme facilitates fundamental and applied research into new bio-based materials that can compete with their fossil counterparts and is sponsored by the Dutch government’s top sector Chemistry.

Opportunities for upscaling

“When the end market is not sufficiently in sight, a dedicated polymerisation pilot plant is often too costly and risky for individual companies,” says Christiaan Bolck, director of the BPM programme. “This is why the BPM programme aims to scale up the production of new polymers with open access pilot initiatives that can result in unique properties and/or application possibilities. There are currently no facilities with the required specialist knowledge available to companies who are looking to scale up but cannot or will not invest in a dedicated pilot plant on their own. Due to the economic opportunities for upscaling – and potential spin-off – it would be best if such a pilot is linked to a suitable industrial infrastructure.”

First pilot facility in Etten-Leur

Both Chemport Europe region in the North of the Netherlands  and the Biobased Delta region in the South West of the Netherlands have a good starting position in this regard for different reasons. This is why the regions have joined forces with BPM to establish world-class shared facilities.

The first pilot facility, planned in Etten-Leur, is focused on ring-opening polymerisation of bio-based monomers. Jan Noordegraaf, General Director at Synbra Technology: “The realisation of this pilot enables the development of new copolymers which can convert new bio-based monomers into polymers in an  infrastructure that we have always wanted to achieve with the parties in the Biobased Delta.” Five larger and ten smaller companies have already indicated a desire to make use of the pilot.

Second pilot facility in Emmen

The second pilot facility is planned in Emmen, at the Sustainable Polymer Innovation Campus (SPIC). “The SPIC innovation cluster already has all the required hardware, and enables us to easily make the link to applications, such as multifilament yarns or monofilaments for 3D printing,” says Gerard Nijhoving, Managing Director of Senbis, a company that carries out applied research in the field of polymers. “Emmen has already realised lots of research into polycondensation to improve the performance of polyester and polyamide yarns. We have received many questions over recent years regarding biopolymers, in particular, as they often have a polyester-like structure. As upscaling these can be difficult we are initiating a polycondensation pilot facility with a capacity of 50 to 100 kg a day.”

Two routes

According to Bolck, the two routes – ring-opening and polycondensation – fit within the BPM programme well and are aligned to the research of Wageningen University & Research. “We can now make polymers on the kilogram scale and the pilot facilities can be a significant catalyst for marketing bio-based building blocks. They therefore meet a major precondition for transforming the fossil economy into a biobased economy. We encourage the industry to join this initiative so that we can realise successful, large-scale facilities.”

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