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Issue 05/2020

  • Text
  • Polyurethane
  • Textiles
  • Fibres
  • Carbon
  • Renewable
  • Plastics
  • Biobased
  • Sustainable
  • Packaging
  • Products
  • Materials
  • Bioplastics
Highlights: Fibres & Textiles Polyurethanes / Elastomers Basics: Resorbable Biopolymers

On-Site Making polymers

On-Site Making polymers out of air The full story In our last issue we presented a news about PHOTANOL (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), a Circular Carbon Chemicals production platform company and RENOLIT (Worms, Germany), a manufacturer of high-quality polymer films, sheets and other polymer solutions. The two companies had formed a strategic partnership to develop polymers based on CO 2 absorbed from the air in a direct, fully circular and CO 2 -neutral conversion process without using (fossil) oil and gas. The unique technology developed by Photanol reduces the impact of chemical industry on global warming while still providing the benefits of virgin high performance polymers. We promised a more comprehensive article about this development and so we visited Photanol and Renolit in Amsterdam in late August and here is our On-site report. Veronique de Buijn, CEO of Photanol told us how it all started: “In 2005 two professors at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) from different departments, Klaas Hellingwerf and Joost Teixeira de Mattos, were chatting about their specific research topics. One was an expert in photosynthesis and the other one was an expert in cell Fig. 1: Through photosynthesis, cyanobacteria capture CO 2 , keep the carbon (C) and return oxygen (O2) as a by-product. Fig. 2: The cyanobacteria’s metabolic pathways are enhanced to produce the desired carbon compound. fermentation. They agreed that the plants were using photosynthesis to convert in their cells CO 2 and water with the help of sunlight into (simplified) a kind of sugar. Joost suggested to use these cells as a factory to do the fermentation with that sugar and produce ethanol with the potential to create any carbon chemical.” Subsequently Klaas and Joost did some calculations and experiments and worked it all out and finally in 2008 they convinced the University to provide the funding for filing a patent. In this patent they already called it the Photanol process and a company with the name Photanol was founded for the patent filing. Photanol is a combined word consisting of photosynthesic and ethanol. “At that time everyone was so keen on finding the holy grail for ethanol with respect to biofuels”, as Veronique added. Ethanol was one of the five products mentioned in that first patent, along with lactic acid and others. Veronique de Bruijn, who then worked in a sustainable greentech venture capital company, was looking for “the next big thing” with significant impact on sustainability and a potential for ROI in a new commercially viable business. Jointly with her colleague Peter van Gelderen she got in touch with the two professors. And finally, in 2012 a dedicated Photanol team was formed and the company Photanol started activities to bring the development to the market. It started with a team of five people. In the beginning the company started to develop high value products, such as flavours, fragrances, turpenes etc., that would bring enough profits even with smaller quantities. But the team was also looking into lactic acids. The next big moves were the signing of a partnership agreement with Corbion and Fig. 3: The compounds are collected straight out of the tubes installation. Upscaling production is as straightforward as laying more tubes. Fig. 4: Photanol’s renewable chemistry is used to create circular plastics, sustainable detergents, beauty and healthcare products. Even biofuel. Fig. 5: Photanol’s platform technology makes it possible to create virtually any carbon compound, with the power to transform many industries to circular. Fig. 6: Veronique de Bruin, CEO of Photanol 26 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/20] Vol. 15

On-Site By: Michael Thielen later Nouryon. Corbion is a fermentation expert producing lactic acid from beat or cane sugar. The partnership with Corbion enabled Photanol to develop renewable lactic acid with highest purity; made from CO 2 . Using 24 times less land and 25 times less water than traditional equivalents. Later, in 2016 Photanol partnered with Nouryon. With two significant partners on board, proven scalability of both circular organic acids — lactic and glycolic — became the key milestones at the debut pilot plants. Over the course of eight years Photanol validated their organic acids, producing consistently good results over prolonged periods at kilogramm scale, at three different plants. Both Corbion and Nouryon proved their strategic value by contributing decades of downstream expertise. Photanol was able to demonstrate cost, waste and energy efficiency throughout the entire process. After building and operating several of these pilot units since 2014 (see pictures), Photanol started in 2016 to communicate publicly, e.g. at the European Bioplastics Conference in Berlin in December (cf bM 01/2017). This was also when Renolit approached Photanol with the idea to make green ethene and propene. Renolit is using ethylene and propylene for medical products and wanted to make the healthcare business a bit more sustainable. “But sustainable also must include profitable,” as Thomas Sampers, Executive Board member of Renolit SE pointed out. And the calculations showed that the Photanol process could be a viable way to go. So, with the third big partner, Renolit, one target is, among others, to shortcut the circularity of biobased Polyethylene and polypropylene. The Photanol Process So basically, the Photanol process uses light, CO 2 and water as raw material to produce base chemicals such as monomers, i.e. the building blocks for polymers, with the help of cyanobacteria, Cyanobacteria are prokaryotes, cellular organisms that lack an envelope-enclosed nucleus, and also referred to as blue-green algae, although they are no algae (Fig 1). “Cynobacteria were among the first inhabitants on this planet”, Veronique explained, “they were the ones that made other life possible, because they produce oxygen. “Our cyanobacteria absorb the CO 2 from the air, just like they would do in their natural habitats. But basically, they can use any CO 2 source, so even CO 2 from exhaust processes”, as Paul Koekoek, Director of operations at Photanol explained. “The source of CO 2 is not really so important, but for the economics of the factory it might play a role. Photanol optimizes the bacteria to absorb more CO 2 , adapting its metabolic pathways to produce a desired carbon compound (Fig. 2) as a by-product (their excretes, as Paul put it). Other than for example bacteria producing PHA, the cyanobacteria don’t need to be killed to harvest the desired product. Photanol transform the bacteria into highly-efficient mini factories that run on sunlight, produce oxygen as another by-product and need radically less land and water than other processes. Veronique: “In a way it is a shortcut. We bypass the step via a plant (such as sugar cane, corn etc.) and our bacteria produce the monomers and chemical building blocks directly. ”All the stuff we don’t need, such as bagasse, leaves, stems etc. is avoided,” Paul added. Fig. 7: One of the pilot units in Amsterdam Fig. 8: Paul Koekoek (left) and Michael Thielen at another pilot unit in Amsterdam bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/20] Vol. 15 27

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