To do a dance of joy, we in the North may be just a little too down-to-earth for that. But reason for rejoicing it certainly is: the arrival of Photanol in the North. The startup, which originated at the University of Amsterdam, has chosen Delfzijl as the location to build a pilot plant.
A great addition to the ecosystem that Chemport Europe already is (see page 16, 'Greening Chemistry'). Photanol CEO Veronique de Bruijn: 'It was a search for the best breeding ground for our next phase. In the end, the North turned out to have the best combination of properties.'
Building blocks for chemistry
What is so special about what Photanol does? It's not so much the things they make, it's the way they make products: a basin in which blue-green algae bacteria swim around, sunlight on them and hop: the bacteria go to work. They produce various intermediate chemicals, building blocks for chemistry. To be precise: organic acids, which in turn serve as raw materials for a wide range of products; fragrances and flavorings, for example, but also biodegradable plastics. Nice detail: Photanol does not emit CO2; on the contrary, it uses it as a raw material. It doesn't get any more sustainable.
Combination of factors
Photanol has outgrown the laboratory. The technology developed, modifying blue-green algae bacteria so they will make useful chemical building blocks, has proven itself. Next up: a pilot plant. That will be located at Akzo Nobel's site in Delfzijl.
Why does a startup from Amsterdam choose Delfzijl, of all places? De Bruijn does not have to think about it for long: "The North has a special combination of characteristics: strategic partners in chemistry, modern agriculture to which we can connect, knowledge institutions in the vicinity and plenty of space in the hinterland.
Veronique de Bruijn, CEO Photanol
"We will never market cosmetics directly, but I can imagine a cream with a sticker that says 'Photanol Inside,'" says Véronique de Bruijn. She laughs
at it, but the idea can be taken seriously: 'This allows the producer of a branded product to show that he is working in a sustainable way. And that is a decisive argument for consumers.'
Photanol hits greening at heart
Jan Martin Timmer, fund manager Investment Fund Groningen
The North wants to lead the way in the greening of chemistry. The arrival of a company like Photanol fits that ambition perfectly, thinks Jan Martin Timmer: "It hits it in the heart, doesn't it. What Photanol does is produce biological building blocks with bacteria, CO2 and light. It is still in its early stages now, but it has enormous potential. If we can do this, then we can really deliver sustainable raw materials to the world and that would be wonderful.'
What was the deciding factor for Investment Fund Groningen to provide funding? 'Of course we examine whether the business case is well-founded, but for us the management team is decisive. We always ask ourselves the question: will these people make it happen? Does this team have an above-average chance of success? In doing so, in the case of Photanol, we were able to put a big green tick.' Three northern funds decided to fund Photanol: Innovatiefonds Noord-Nederland, GROEIfonds and Investeringsfonds Groningen. 'It really is a Northern Netherlands effort,' Jan Martin Timmer concludes. 'Not only in terms of funding, by the way. The contact with Photanol has been going on for much longer. Initially, the contacts were with Alex Berhitu and Errit Bekkering (NOM Business Development). Errit has provided us with a lot of technical knowledge. Also indispensable in the decision making concerning funding'.
Greening the chain, that's what we're after
Johan Visser, site director Akzo Nobel Delfzijl
'It's good news that Photanol is coming to our site. What makes Photanol interesting for Akzo Nobel is that they are working directly toward a product that we need: acetic acid. Until now, we still have to take an intermediate step: first make second-generation sugars and then convert them into acetic acid.'
The contact between Photanol and Akzo Nobel in Delfzijl came about through Marco Waas, director RD& I in Amsterdam. 'Marco and I have an excellent contact, every Thursday we have a short 'legs-on-table-session'. This allows us to offer the Photanols of this world a place, embedded in our industry. We like to have such companies close to us, because greening the chain is what we are after.'