Vertoro takes step towards large-scale production of ‘green oil’ in a pilot plant

The young spin-off company Vertoro will process the waste product lignin to produce ‘green oil’ that can be used as a raw material in the production of bioplastics, chemicals and fuel. With a new installation, the company can scale up the production of lignin to 150 liters per day, an essential intermediate step to large-scale production. The installation is part of a pilot plant on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen that was officially opened today. This ‘Multi Purpose Pilot Plant’ is unique in the world and offers entrepreneurs and universities the opportunity to scale up new technologies.

Vertoro is a company where enterprising researchers from the university have transformed themselves into researching entrepreneurs. Vertoro focuses on converting lignin to an oil that can be used as a raw material for the production of materials, chemicals and fuels. The company actually arose at the campus as a spin-off of several InSciTe research projects. “Lignin is what remains of wood as a residual product during the production of paper or manufacturing bio-ethanol,” explains Dannie van Osch, Chief Business Officer at Vertoro. “It’s currently a waste product that is being incinerated. After being used to make lignin oil, however, it becomes suitable as a raw material. It is killing two birds with one stone, a win-win for everyone. Burning lignin does result in the releaseof CO2, but ideally we want to keep itCO2-neutral.”

Intermediate step

Vertoro has grown and now has a team of 11 people based at the campus. Over the past three years, it has been conducting successful tests with different types of lignin-rich materials at the labs at the Eindhoven University of Technology and the Chemelot Institute for Science and Technology (InSciTe) at the campus in Geleen. “We’re ready for the next step, proving in practice that lignin can be a good substitute for fossil-fuel based oil. Potential customers want to be able to perform extensive testing. We will be able to produce larger, usable batches faster at the new installation at Brightlands Chemelot Campus, with quantities of up to 150 liters a day. It takes more than a month to achieve this level in the lab. This is an essential intermediate step towards large-scale production.”

The installation with a reactor for processing lignin among other products is the latest addition to the Multi Purpose Pilot Plant where InSciTe acts as the facilitator for pioneering entrepreneurs active in raw and other materials from non-fossil sources. “The pilot plant will help entrepreneurs scale up from the lab to a factory set-up,” says Emiel Staring, Managing Director of InSciTe.

One-of-a-kind worldwide

“This plant is one-of-a-kind worldwide,” adds Wout Ludema, Manager of Operations at Brightlands Chemelot Campus. “Entrepreneurs and universities can scale up new technologies here under the umbrella of a comprehensive permit, housing and broad support.

The Multi Purpose Pilot Plant is suitable for various chemical processes requiring relatively simple interventions. The high-tech installations can handle the thermochemical and chemocatalytical processing of bio-based raw materials in batches of up to one hundred kilograms per day. Specialized employees are on hand to operate the installations.

Vertoro is grateful for the opportunity to benefit from the expansion. “Definitely,” says Dannie van Osch. “This new plant offers so many possibilities. In the labs, we discovered that not only can lignin be used to make oil, it is also a suitable raw material for bioplastics. This is particularly the case when combined with other renewable ingredients. We are also studying the possibility to do our own lignin extraction from wood. Thanks to the installations, we can pioneer and test to our heart’s content.”

Licenses

Vertoro is going to work with Sekab in Sweden on the next step, a demo plant. “It’s possible that a commercial plant will be built in Geleen in the future,” Dannie van Osch concludes. “We also want to license our formulas so that lignin can be processed to make sustainable oil worldwide.”

Knowledge institute InSciTe was founded in 2014 with support from Maastricht University, Maastricht UMC+, Eindhoven University of Technology, DSM and the Province of Limburg. More than five years after its start, over 35 partners are now affiliated with InSciTe and the knowledge institute has contributed to the development of seven startups, including Vertoro.

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