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Chemistry and sustainability: they do go hand in hand. With the goal of using only renewable energy and raw materials in the chemical sector by 2050, companies in the Chemport cluster in the north of the Netherlands have embarked on a variety of projects. “In Eemshaven, we are working on making plastic wind turbine blades reusable,” says Chemport program manager Reinder Jacobi.

The ecosystem originating in the northern Netherlands, which was founded five years ago, has made great strides in recent years. “We not only want to attract new sustainable companies, but also support existing companies within the chemical sector in the transition,” says Jacobi. At the moment, an important project is on the verge of realization: Chemport managed to attract the start-up Enerpy to the north of the Netherlands. The company is soon starting an innovative process in which different types of waste are gasified and converted into oil, gas and carbon.

“The process industry based in the north senses the urgency to go green,” says Jacobi. “In particular, a lot of progress is being made in the area of making plastics more sustainable and in the reuse of plastic waste. There are all kinds of products in the pipeline that use plastic waste as a raw material. But also the production of sustainable plastics based on bio-based raw materials is rapidly getting closer.”

A pilot plant for a biorefinery

Chemport plays a role in linking projects to subsidy schemes, as well as connecting companies, government agencies and knowledge institutes, and in developing knowledge within these companies. In recent years, Chemport has been involved with Avantium: a company that is currently making major advances in its sustainability process. “We managed to get Avantium to come to Delfzijl a number of years ago, and they are taking promising steps in the right direction there,” Jacobi says. Avantium has a biorefinery pilot plant in Delfzijl.

The factory makes use of wood residues such as branches and saw waste from the Dutch Forestry Service and hydrochloric acid from a plant owned by Nouryon in Delfzijl. The sugars that are produced can be used as a raw material for sustainable plastics or for making parts of the existing chemistry more sustainable. “In the pilot plant, Avantium will have to determine whether the technology really works and whether it is economically viable,” Jacobi adds.

Innovation Origins previously published a story earlier this year about the construction of the Avantium plant in Delfzijl for the production of bioplastics.

Packaging made out of sugars

The northern region where Chemport is active has a robust agricultural sector, with innovative projects taking place around crops such as sugar beets and potatoes. Grateful use is also made of these. Earlier this year, Avantium began an innovative collaboration with the sugar beet processor Cosun Beet Company. The companies are jointly building a commercial factory for the production of vegetable glycols, which are extracted from sugar. Avantium is consequently providing the technology for the plant to convert sugars into glycols: a recyclable plant-based product that can be used for packaging and in antifreeze, among other things. The plant is scheduled to be built in northwestern Europe in 2023.

Reusing wind turbine blades

New projects around plastics are also being rolled out in Eemshaven by a number of logistics parties that are based there and are being supported by Chemport. “The blades of wind turbines are made from glass fiber and polyester, among other materials. At present, these blades are still being incinerated in a furnace, yet this is a low-grade application of these materials. We want to work towards a circular process, where the blades of the windmills can be reused for all kinds of applications such as raw material for new windmill blades or as material for river barges.”

`We are in the process of setting it all up’

Jacobi is confident that Chemport’s target of being climate-neutral by 2050 will be met. “We have already taken substantial steps and are in the process of becoming even more sustainable. However, we also face a number of major challenges.” For example, the government may step things up a notch or two where renewable energy is concerned. “We still need to have enough wind at sea and a lot has to be done in terms of transport capacity for sustainable electricity. This is how we can give sustainability a further boost.”

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