|Avantium uses a catalytic process to convert carbohydrates into furanics building blocks. Click to enlarge.|
Avantium, which spun off from Shell in 2000 to develop furan-based biofuels and biomaterials, has begun construction of a pilot plant at the Chemelot site (Geleen, the Netherlands) to convert carbohydrates into furanic building blocks—which the company calls “YXY”—for making renewable materials and fuels. Furanics are heteroaromatic compounds derived from the chemical intermediate HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural, C6H6O3).
The pilot plant is expected to become operational in the first quarter of 2011 and marks a major milestone in the commercialization of Avantium’s technology. The plant will produce several tons of YXY building blocks per year to support product development.
Avantium has already engine-tested furanics fuel blends (earlier post) and is collaborating with industrial partners such as NatureWorks (a subsidiary of Cargill) and Teijin Aramid to develop novel materials on basis of its YXY building blocks. The company expects to use YXY building blocks for the production of green and recyclable materials such as water and soft drink bottles, carpets, textiles, high-performance fibers, coatings and plasticizers.
Over the past years we have made tremendous progress to develop a low-cost production process to convert biomass into YXY building blocks. We believe that we have brought the technology to a point where we can be price competitive with existing plastics and fuels that are made out of oil. In parallel we have proven that you can make materials on basis of YXY that have excellent performance characteristics. With the strong market pull from corporations and consumers for green materials, the time is right for the scale-up of our technology. We look for industrial partners in the polymer, chemicals, materials and fuels sectors to support our development of YXY based materials and fuels, and help us create a truly green economy.—Tom van Aken, CEO Avantium
The pilot plant is partly funded by a €1 million (US$1.4 million) grant from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry had a total budget of €10 million (US$14 million) for projects to realize pilot plants for the production of sustainable bio-based products and energy for the European market. To run the pilot plant and to further accelerate the commercialization of YXY, Avantium is raising additional private funding. The company expects to close a €15-million (US$21.1-million) round by the end of 2010.
Avantium scored very high on all criteria defined by the Ministry. In addition to an impressive patent portfolio, they have developed a technology for a broad range of biomass feedstock. The YXY products can also be used in a wide range of applications. What I personally like about Avantium is the fact that they use a catalytic process, similar to a classical oil process, for a complete new raw-material (biomass). Avantium is a great example how a small and young company can build a unique position in an upcoming global market by using its extensive knowledge.—H. van Wechem, Chairman Advisory Board Tender Bio-refinery, Retired Global Manager Innovation & Research of Shell Global Solutions
The Chemelot site in Geleen, the Netherlands offers services and a specialized chemical infrastructure to the industrial producers, among others DSM and Sabic.
YXY (pronounced “ixy”) is a patented technology that converts biomass into Furanics using Avantium’s catalytic technology. YXY can be implemented in existing chemical production methods.