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Why chemical technology company Avantium chose to expand in TopDutch

Chemport Europe, the TopDutch region’s chemical cluster, is changing the very nature of chemistry. By 2030, the cluster will be a biochemical hotspot, mostly using and producing renewable raw materials. This attracts a wide range of sustainable entrepreneurs. One such company is green chemical technology company Avantium. Discover their journey to the TopDutch region.

Avantium was founded in 2000 as a spin-off of the energy company Shell and is a technology company in renewable chemistry. Together with partners from all over the world, the company develops sustainable technologies and products from green raw materials. The company proved able to make plastic bottles from sugar plants. There are plans for a factory that will produce this ‘sugar bottle’ on a large scale in Antwerp.

Avantium opened a pilot plant in the TopDutch region - specifically, Chemport Europe's Delfzijl location - in 2018. They use their biorefinery to convert wood chips into glucose, an important green raw material for the chemical industry.

‘Delfzijl came out on top, because of the business partners present here: Staatsbosbeheer (the Netherlands' national forestry service) supplies wood residues from forests in the Provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. Our ‘neighbor’ Nouryon supplies hydrochloric acid that is needed to refine the wood chips. At the same time, Nouryon is a potential buyer of the glucose extracted from wood chips. As a third partner, the energy company RWE purchases lignin - also a product of refining - as a fuel’, explains Avantium’s Chief Technology Officer, Gert-Jan Gruter.

Delfzijl was also logistically attractive to Avantium, because of its location by the sea. ‘Via Groningen Seaports, we can easily import wood residues from Scandinavia or the Baltic States if production increases in the future.’ What also played a role, according to Gruter, is that ‘Chemport Europe still has the space to expand, which is good in light of our future plans.’

Gert-Jan Gruter, Chief Technology Officer at Avantium

Initially, Avantium did have one objection to settling in the TopDutch region. ‘When we first looked around here, Delfzijl was mainly a production site. There were few research facilities that we need as a technology company,’ says Gruter. So, Chemport Europe met Avantium’s need. The business cluster ensures that pilot plants are facilitated in every possible way. ‘Currently, there’s 24-hour support in the event of possible machine malfunctions.’

The fact that in Delfzijl we’re so close to the future green hydrogen source is a great advantage.

Gert-Jan Gruter, Chief Technology Officer at Avantium

Newcomer Avantium was so happy with their decision to move to the TopDutch region, that the technology company very recently decided to open a second pilot plant. This demonstration plant will produce mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) - a raw material for plastics - from biomass. ‘By choosing this location, we can deploy facilities and employees efficiently’, says Avantium’s CTO Gruter. But that wasn’t the only reason: Avantium uses hydrogen for the new technology. ‘Green hydrogen - hydrogen produced from renewable energy - production in the TopDutch region will soon be upgraded to a large-scale. Currently, industry standard ‘gray’ hydrogen - hydrogen produced from natural gas - is readily available, but the fact that in Delfzijl we’re so close to the future green source is a great advantage.’ Avantium therefore sees - just like the further established companies - plenty of opportunities in the TopDutch region.

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