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Green Chemistry

BioBTX advances waste to aromatics

In the face of setbacks by others, the Dutch firm plans a commercial plant by 2026

by Alex Scott
June 6, 2024

A pilot plant for making aromatic chemicals from waste plastic and biomaterials.
Credit: BioBTX
BioBTX is set to build a commercial waste-to-aromatic plant after testing its process at a pilot facility in the Netherlands, shown here.

Making aromatic compounds from waste has proved a difficult nut to crack. But after raising more than €80 million (about $87 million) in funding, the Dutch start-up BioBTX says it could be producing high-value aromatic compounds from waste plastics and biomaterials by late 2026.

The company’s plan is to build a facility in Groningen, the Netherlands, with the capacity to convert about 20,000 metric tons (t) of waste annually into compounds such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes.

“If we can build this plant with €80 million, it will show that we can build bigger plants after that,” says Peter J. Nieuwenhuizen, a bioindustry veteran who was involved in fundraising for the new plant. Future plants could process around 200,000 t of waste per year, he says. The feedstock for the first plant will be mostly postconsumer mixed plastic waste.

BioBTX’s technology consists of a pyrolysis step that vaporizes biomass and plastics into hydrocarbons and a catalytic step that uses a zeolite-based catalyst to convert the hydrocarbons into aromatic compounds.

“The separation of the two steps allows us to be flexible,” says Tijmen Vries, head of strategic development for BioBTX. The firm has been testing its process for the past few years in a pilot facility in Groningen. The tests show that the process can recover more than 50% of the carbon in the waste material in the form of aromatic oils, Vries says.

BioBTX has raised the money from investors including the chemical maker Covestro and venture capital firms. More than $15 million of the new funding comes from the Dutch government and the European Commission.

Other projects to convert waste into aromatics have hit setbacks. Encina recently shelved plans to build a $1.1 billion plant in Pennsylvania that would have converted postconsumer plastic waste into aromatic compounds and other chemicals. The company says it has experienced an increase in interest from potential customers and now wants to build a bigger plant at another US site that can accommodate it.

And Origin Materials disclosed last August that it was delaying plans for a major biomass-to-aromatic plant and changing its product slate.

Several other companies continue to work on technologies for converting waste—including wood lignin—to aromatics as part of the European Union–funded Biorizon initiative, which is based in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. Led by the Dutch technology institute TNO, Biorizon’s 11 partners plan to complete the development of a process for converting tree and plant residues into aromatic compounds within the next 3 years.



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