Collaboration Picks Up Speed

Industry and academia pull together harder.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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To this end, the project deals with the entire process of transforming biomass, from fields to final commercial products. It also specifically aims to overcome the fragmentation in the biomass industry by facilitating better networking, coordination and cooperation among a wide variety of organizations (Figure 2). The effort involves 28 partners from 14 countries. Mainstream processing is represented by: Arkema France, Paris; Borregaard, Sarpsborg, Norway; Novozymes, Bagsvaerd, Denmark; Haldor Topsoe, Lyngby, Denmark; Merck, Darmstadt, Germany; and Umicore, Hanau, Germany.

As feedstock, the project is targeting sustainable non-food oils, cellulosic and hemi-cellulosic residual materials, lignin and all the associated solid residues. Target products comprise chemicals including monomers and solvents, polymers and aviation fuels, among others.

"This project is really multi-product, with a core of about 30 compounds but with a lot of possible variations and applications that will also be addressed. We really intend to replace the model of a petrorefinery with a new model of biorefinery. This includes, of course, bioproducts that are homologous to petroproducts, but also new products to be delivered to the market, which take full advantage of the specificity of biomass-derived platform molecules," explains project coordinator Franck Dumeignil, a professor at the Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France.

Dumeignil says the project wants to reach the Holy Grail of full integration: "All the processes will be integrated, including enzymatic catalysis, homogeneous catalysis, heterogeneous catalysis, thermochemical conversion, all with proper, innovative, integrated low-energy separation processes."

Flexibility will be key. The aim is to make process implementation very easy in any part of Europe — taking into account factors such as the amount of locally-available biomass and the target market.

"The project will not just stay at the study stage; rather, the processes that are developed will be commercialized. European citizens will see real, concrete new-generation biorefineries, which will have a strong socioeconomic impact," adds Dumeignil.

Scottish Push
Meanwhile, February saw the launch of two collaborations to bolster industrial/academic relationships in Scotland. The first, ScotCHEM, is a partnership between the country's seven leading universities, the private sector and the Scottish government, with the aim of spurring substantial expansion of world-class chemistry research in Scotland.

"Scotland's new R&D proposition will ensure that any needs of the wider international chemicals community that can be met by the skills and knowledge base existing within Scotland are appropriately met within our infrastructure and academic community," says Chris Gilmore, senior representative of ScotCHEM and a professor in the department of chemistry at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.

The second initiative is a new industry-led Centre of Excellence for Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallization that will strive to advance the production of high-value pharmaceuticals and medicines beyond existing boundaries. Discussions are underway about the location and start-up date for the Center, according to a spokeswoman from Chemical Sciences Scotland, Falkirk. A final decision is expected in the summer.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.

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