Chemelot site Geleen

“We have entered a new phase. That’s good news: investors are pouring more and more money into clean tech. These are often asset-light investments, such as IT applications. But, due to advances in technology behind wind turbines and electrolysers, for example, investors are also stepping up their investments in deep tech.” These encouraging words from chair Arnold Stokking mark the opening of the online update of the ‘Green Chemistry, New Economy‘ action agenda earlier this month.

The action agenda consists of 22 concrete items for action and is an initiative of the Economic Network South Netherlands (ENZuid). Meanwhile, the agenda is being supported by five provinces – Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, Zeeland and South Holland. One important point that the agenda makes for the greening of the chemical sector is an integrated approach from three angles: chain formation between different sectors, financing, and new regulations.

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Arnold Stokking, chair of the GCNE coalition

Green chemistry, new economy

According to Stokking, the supply of sustainable production processes to industry – whether this involves fertilizers, renewable energy or plastics – represents an opportunity for entrepreneurs. He cites the enormous growth of plastic (from 400 Mt in 2018 to 1,200 Mt in 2050) as an example. “For fossil-free manufacture of plastic, there are three routes for solutions: recycling, bio-based and CO2-based. All those routes are still in their infancy, there are incredible opportunities there for new entrepreneurship across a range of sectors.”

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    Stokking also sees endless opportunities for green chemistry when it comes to alternative energy. For example, in his story he refers to the flame that doesn’t burn: a new technology where heat can be extracted from an energy carrier without actually burning it. “Last week, a laboratory was opened in Geleen, where the technique of splitting and synthesizing molecules will be worked on intensively for that purpose.”

    Chain formation

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    Marc van Doorn, CEO BrighH2

    In order to make the chemical sector greener, chains need to be formed with other sectors such as agriculture, forestry, high-tech and waste management. Stokking: “These are all sectors where the Netherlands is very strong, so that’s very exciting. New knowledge, skills and resources for chemicals must come from these sectors.” A key driver of the action agenda concerns fostering connections between the various sectors and to spur on cross-sectoral chain formation, geared towards new green plastic products.”

    “We have been developing a technique that allows us to produce hydrogen on the basis of bio-based raw materials,” said Marc van Doorn, CEO of BrighH2. He is one of three entrepreneurs who will join us in the second part of the meeting to talk about the obstacles that his company faces. “With that, we are working closely with other sectors. So networking is extremely important to us. The GCNE coalition plays an important role in this.”

    Robust policies and new laws and regulations

    If new raw materials and electrical systems – which were initially too expensive – are to compete with fossil fuel processes, then tough government policies are imperative. “The government must put considerable effort into knowledge and infrastructure for the transition. Otherwise we simply won’t make it,” Stokking states.

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    Victor Vreeken, CEO of Black Bear Carbon

    The government also has a role to play in the revision of current laws and regulations. In a circular economy, it goes without saying that waste is a starting point or raw material for many production processes. Getting rid of this ‘waste status’ is complicated within the current laws and regulations, says Victor Vreeken, CEO of Black Bear Carbon (BBC).

    BBC extracts carbon and oil from worn-out car tires. The basic material for the production process is categorized as waste by the existing legislation and regulations, while it is actually a raw material for BBC. Vreeken: “It is our responsibility as a supplier to make the transition from ‘waste status’ to ‘product status’ somewhere in the supply chain.” Vreeken thinks that at present, there are still “clumsy formulations” used that do not provide much in the way of guidance.

    Van Doorn acknowledges this. “”For very understandable safety reasons, the legislation is now completely sealed in‚Ķ. Some waste streams really are nothing but waste and can be harmful to people and the environment. But that does make it difficult for circular entrepreneurship, because you actually want to throw it open without ending up with the same problems as before.”

    Financing

    Financing and finding suitable investors is a major challenge for entrepreneurs in green chemistry. Van Doorn: “We are eager to scale up and build a factory, but we are not there yet. The steps we need to take are major where capital is concerned. We just need one sheep to lead the way. Then others will say: ‘If you go that way, I’ll join. The GCNE coalition provides the opportunity to give the development just that one push it needs at an early stage.”

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    Roger Blokland, CEO van Relement

    Human factor challenge and lack of knowledge

    Another important point raised by the entrepreneurs is the human factor challenge. Roger Blokland, CEO of Relement, notices a shortage of good people in the industry. “We desperately need new people. I hope that the action agenda creates a certain kind of vibe that attracts new students and shows that the sector is committed to sustainability in a big way.”

    When asked if knowledge about chemistry is lacking in the financial world, the three entrepreneurs answer in unison without hesitation that this is true. Vreeken: “Investors often don’t realize that scaling up in our sector takes time and effort. The chemistry has to be translated into technology and ultimately into a factory. It takes more time before you can deliver concrete results.”

    Blokland adds that the financial world should recognize that there are plenty of opportunities, but that the opportunities may look more different than usual. “If my company is able to produce paint in a sustainable way soon, then we can keep doing that forever. So it’s harder to get there. But if you succeed, you have a very steady flow of income for a very long time.” Moreover, he finds it difficult to make chemistry appealing and understandable. ” In neighboring countries, I see that companies from the sector are also funded. I think that this a good solution, since right now, many investors have a lack of knowledge. Perhaps that’s something the GCNE coalition can tackle.”

    Also interesting: Plasma: the promising green fuel for the chemistry industry

    Collaboration

    This story is the result of a collaboration between Groene Chemie, nieuwe economie and our editorial team. Innovation Origins is an independent journalism platform that carefully chooses its partners and only cooperates with companies and institutions that share our mission: spreading the story of innovation. This way we can offer our readers valuable stories that are created according to journalistic guidelines. Want to know more about how Innovation Origins works with other companies? Click here

    About the author

    Author profile picture You can see Aafke Eppinga in the weekly explainers, the innovation videos she makes during her cycling trip and of course on IO-tv. She likes to write, but filming and editing videos is even more fun. Luckily she can do both for IO.