One step closer to plastics from organic waste

4 min reading time

Source-separated organics (SSO), diaper fill, sieve fraction and manure as feedstocks for the production of furans – valuable chemical building blocks for bio-aromatics. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated last year by the partners in a project run by the Biorizon Shared Research Center. The business case is so promising that a consortium consisting of TNO, Orgaworld and ten other players in the value chain is planning to develop a blueprint for a pilot plant. The new project is called Waste2Aromatics.

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Within Biorizon, TNO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and ECN are developing the technology needed to produce valuable aromatic feedstock for the chemical industry, using organic residues that would otherwise be burnt or fermented. This reduces dependency on fossil feedstocks, leads to lower CO2 emissions, and provides the chemical sector with a profitable and sustainable alternative. One of the projects, Waste2Aromatics, centres around the conversion of heterogeneous waste streams. “Furans are the feedstock for aromatics, which can be converted into a variety of applications, including plastics or coatings”, explains Monique Wekking, Senior Business Developer at TNO. “There are companies that produce furans from clean sugars. Last year, however, we demonstrated on labscale that these compounds can also be produced from waste streams like source-separated organics (SSO), diaper fill, sieve fraction and manure.”

Twiddling the knobs

The two technologies involved in this conversion, steam technology and the two-phase reactor system, have proven themselves at the laboratory-scale. Ms Wekking points out that “The yield needs to be as high as possible, to give a further boost to the business case. This involves the pre-treatment procedure on the one hand, and the process inside the reactor on the other. Thus, together with the other members of the consortium, we plan to test these technologies on a larger and continous scale. You can tweak the process conditions by twiddling various knobs. These ‘knobs’ can include the period of time spent in the reactor, the temperature, the pressure, the solvent, the dry matter content of the organic waste, and so on. In the framework of various work packages, we will be tackling the pre-treatment of biomass, the reaction, the separation, the residue and the product.”

The entire chain is on board. That is thanks to the results generated by the previous project. But, above all, it is due to the business case, which is very promising indeed”

The entire chain is on board

The consortium represents a variety of parties in the value chain, all of whom are involved with the process. These range from waste management companies (Orgaworld, AEB, Twence, the Dutch Waste Management Association, Knowaste) and water treatment companies (Stowa, Waternet), to stakeholder organizations (Biobased Delta, Port of Amsterdam) and a designer and builder of pilot facilities (Zeton). The users of aromatics are represented by SABIC, a petrochemical company that also produces polymers. TNO is coordinating the project, and providing the technology needed for the conversion of the waste streams. “The entire chain is on board”, says Monique Wekking. “That is thanks to the results generated by the previous project. But, above all, it is due to the business case, which is very promising indeed.”

Learning a great deal

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Orgaworld Nederland is also on board. “We firmly believe that, in the relatively near future, it will be possible to produce high-quality products from organic waste”, says Klaas van den Berg, General Manager of Orgaworld. For the past ten years, we have been working with various start-up companies on alternative conversions for organic residual streams. We have thoroughly tested our input streams (such as expired products and SSO) in insect larvae (proteins and fats for the food sector) and with regard to conversion into fatty acids (feedstock for the chemical sector). You never know for sure what a given innovation will deliver, or whether a partnership will be successful, or whether a market launch is feasible. But we are delighted to be out in front, in terms of innovation in the sector. That is in keeping with our type of organization. The consortium itself, and TNO’s leadership, gives everyone confidence. It means that we can focus primarily on our current process and on our current business activities. Biorizon is a solid programme that will enable us to learn a great deal, while expending only a limited amount of effort.”

Application in sight

Mr Van den Berg explains that “The fact that we have the entire chain on board broadens and strengthens the project. We are not focusing on a very small niche, with a single feedstock and a single conversion. Waste2Aromatics has much greater scope than that. Soon, we will be able to offer a whole range of feedstocks and conversions. Next, we must be able to accurately assess our business case. Yet the genuine prospect of an application is just as important. Fortunately, this is a very broad-based project. TNO is also keeping a close watch on various initiatives in the broad context of Biorizon that are taking place in the world outside the project. Ultimately, the consortium will deliver a blueprint for a pilot plant capable of converting waste into furans. Will we actually be constructing this facility here at Orgaworld? That could very well be the case.”

“Ultimately, the consortium will deliver a blueprint for a pilot plant capable of converting waste into furans”

By the ton

In conclusion, Monique Wekking notes that “The size of the pilot plant will be established in consultation with the industrial consortium. We are talking tons here. A pilot plant could be up and running within two to three years. We were very confident about the launch of the current phase, especially as the entire chain is participating. The industry itself has presented a list of partners it would like to see involved. That makes this project all the more valuable. The project has a budget in excess of €1.3 million. It is funded both by the industrial consortium (47%) and by TKI Chemistry (53%).”

Want to know more?

Would you like more details about the technologies in question or about the use of bio-aromatics in a variety of applications? If so, please feel free to get in touch with us.

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