Royal Cosun, Avantium to further biofuel, bioplastic development

By Ron Kotrba
Two Netherlands-based companies, Royal Cosun and Avantium, have agreed to collaborate in further developing bioplastics and biofuels from agricultural wastes.

Under the collaboration, Royal Cosun, developer, producer and seller of food products and ingredients, will manage the front-end work of selecting, isolating and purifying nonfood carbohydrate streams from unspecified ag wastes. Meanwhile, Avantium will develop a chemically catalyzed back-end process to convert carbohydrates and sugars from cellulose and hemicellulose into what it calls "furanics," or furan-based compounds, which can then be used as a building block for bioplastics or biofuels production.

Gerald van Engelen, business development manager of corporate development for Royal Cosun, told Biomass Magazine that the joint investigation aims to identify a more specific ag-waste stream down the road. "There are a lot of ways to hydrolyze carbohydrates from waste streams," he said. "We are working to find the best, cheapest way."

Royal Cosun and Avantium began initial discussions approximately three years ago. Those discussions were more "explorative," van Engelen said. "Then it went quiet for about a year, and then about a year-and-a-half ago, we met again."

Phase one of the collaboration will take two years. Van Engelen said developing a research and development plan will take up to six months of that time, in addition to obtaining research results and determining the feasibility of future work. He acknowledged that this won't be a quick developmental process. "Exportation of technology resulting from this could take years," he said.

Avantium has been working on the development of furanics for years and described them as "heteroaromatic compounds derived from a key intermediate molecule called HMF, or hydroxyl-methyl-furfural." The company said HMF is the precursor to many valuable building blocks, noting that despite decades of study, an economical approach to producing HMF has yet to be achieved. Through its work though, Avantium said it has found new and improved catalytic routes to specific furanics.

The partnering companies also anticipate overcoming the food-versus-fuel issues with first-generation biofuel production, in addition to solving the technical hurdles associated with second-generation biofuel production that exist today.