Imagine, with us!: AkzoNobel issues an innovation challenge to the advanced bioceconomy

February 6, 2017 |

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AkzoNobel is launching Imagine Chemistry, an exciting opportunity to partner with start-up firms, students, research groups and career scientists from across the world to jointly exploit the knowledge of chemistry and solve several real-life chemistry-related challenges.

“Imagine Chemistry is just the latest example of the commitment of AkzoNobel to fostering innovation, and also to doing innovation differently,” said Peter Nieuwenhuizen, RD&I Director for AkzoNobel’s Specialty Chemicals business.

It follows a recent decision by the company to participate in a €50 million collaborative venture capital fund, run by Icos Capital, that will focus on investing in early stage chemical and clean technology innovation start-ups, as well as plans to establish an Open Innovation Center at the AkzoNobel Chemicals Research Facility in Deventer, the Netherlands.

Getting Involved

Startups with a proof of concept who want to further validate and scale up their solution, and researchers with a concept they have already developed and/or tested, are encouraged to submit their innovation on the dedicated website:

Over the next two months, a group of 35 AkzoNobel experts will work with entrants to enrich, validate and co-develop their submitted solutions. All challenges are business-driven and should go commercial in a 3-5 year time horizon.

The Areas of Interest

Revolutionizing plastics recycling
Wastewater-free chemical sites
Cellulose-based alternatives to synthetics
Bio-based and biodegradable surfactants and thickeners
Bio-based sources of ethylene

There are also open challenges for ideas in two additional areas: Highly Reactive Chemistry & Technology; and Sustainable Alternatives to Current Technologies.

And the winners receive…

For starters, anyone who registers will get feedback from AkzoNobel chemicals experts.

After the submission period closes on March 16, twenty of the most promising solutions and startups will be selected to participate in a three-day (all-expense paid) event at the AkzoNobel Open Innovation Center in Deventer, The Netherlands from June 1-3. There the winning team(s) will be selected and sign an agreement to officially collaborate with AkzoNobel.

“We will provide access to customers, investors, subject matter experts, mentorship and an accelerator program, along with additional support. The collaboration could take on many forms: a joint development agreement, having AkzoNobel as a launch customer, organizing partnerships, or investing in your startup. Our ultimate goal is to innovate together,” Nieuwenhuizen added.

The AkzoNobel backstory

In the Realm of Biobased, AkzoNobel has been on the radar in recent months principally via the partnership also including Van Gansewinkel, Air Liquide, AVR and Enerkem — looking to build a waste-to-chemicals plant in Rotterdam in collaboration with the Port of Rotterdam, the City of Rotterdam, the province of South Holland and InnovationQuarter. The new chemical plant will use Enerkem technology to convert residual waste into methanol, a raw material used in the chemical industry. The methanol will then be converted into chemicals such as acetic acid (e.g., for fibers and adhesives), thickening agents and dimethyl ether (clean propellant gases). More on that here.

That followed a 2014 agreement we reported on here between Enerkem and AkzoNobel to develop a project partnership to explore the development of waste-to-chemicals facilities in Europe.

The other project that’s achieved quite a bit of visibility is EMPYRO (in full: Polygeneration through pyrolysis: Simultaneous production of oil, process steam, electricity and organic acids) which aims to build and demonstrate a 25 MWth polygeneration pyrolysis plant to produce electricity, process steam and fuel oil from woody biomass. The project is located at the AkzoNobel site in Hengelo, Netherlands, and was completed in 2015.

But there has been other activity as well. We reported here on a 3-year pact between AkzoNobel and Solvay whereby AkzoNobel will progressively increase twoards 20% use of Solvay’s bio-based epichlorohydrin, or Epicerol. . And we reported on this collaboration between TerraVia (then Solazyme) and AkzoNovel to develop advanced tailored triglyceride oils and commercial sales for the chemical giant’s Surface Chemistry and Decorative Paints businesses. Bottom line, the company has been waving its tentacles across the bioeconomy.

Also, some activity in sugarbeet, via a broad partnership including SuikerUnie, Rabobank, Deloitte, Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands (NOM), Groningen Seaports, and the Province of Groningen, to investigate the possibility of producing chemicals from beet-derived sugar feedstock. More on that here.

Finally, there’s Sustainable Shipping. Collaborating to deliver on a 2040 Roadmap – the coalition of shipping leaders include ABN AMRO, AkzoNobel, American Bureau of Shipping, Bunge, Cargill, China Navigation Company, IMC, Lloyd’s Register, Maersk Line, U-Ming Marine Transport Corporation and Wärtsilä. We reported on that here.


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