The Zambezi 5: AkzoNobel, Chemport Europe, RWE and Staatsbosbeheer plan biobased chemicals project using Avantium’s Zambezi process

February 9, 2017 |

BD TS 021017 Zambezi cover sm

In the Netherlands, Avantium, AkzoNobel, Chemport Europe, RWE and Staatsbosbeheer have established a partnership for the development of a reference plant at the Chemie Park Delfzijl. The new project will be based on the Zambezi process that has been developed by Avantium.

Zambezi. What’s that, exactly? Let’s explore.

The Zambezi process

The Zambezi process aims for a cost-effective process for the production of high-purity glucose from non-food biomass such as forestry residue, pulp or agricultural by-products, so called second generation feedstock. This technology converts woody biomass into sugars and lignin.

As Avantium explains:

“Most of the activity is in the 2G sugar field is focused on the production of lignocellulosic ethanol. In this case, pure glucose is not required and brute force high temperature pre-treatment (e.g. steam explosion) followed by enzymatic hydrolysis is often used. After testing many 2G glucose samples from a wide variety of technologies, we concluded that none of these technologies would deliver the high quality glucose needed for many bio-based chemicals processes in a cost competitive way.

“We found that high acid/low temperature processes were the only class of process that provided glucose with the right characteristics for bio-based chemicals applications. This class of process has been around for 100 years, and is still the only 2G sugar process that has been run at commercial scale.

Accordingly, Zambezi has the following characteristics:

• No pretreatment of the biomass required

• Woodchips can be used directly in the process as the biomass is static in the process

• High purity 2G glucose product from lignocellulosic biomass (versus 1G glucose from starch).

• Concentrated acid, low temperature, sequential hemicellulose and cellulose hydrolysis, high yield , high selectivity

• Near quantitative conversion of hemicellulose at close to 100% sugar selectivity

• Near quantitative conversion of cellulose at close to 100% sugar selectivity Proprietary acid-sugar separation technology

• Separation of wood extractives such as tall oils

• Proprietary technology for the separation of acid from lignin, giving a clean lignin product suitable for energy generation

• High purity 2G glucose product; identical to starch-based glucose

• Feedstock flexible: forestry residues (wood), corn stover, bagasse, sugar beet residue and others

It is designed for making high purity glucose  suitable for both catalytic and fermentation processes for the production of a new and growing generation of sustainable materials (such as PLA, PEF, PBAT, and PHA). The lignin is a feedstock for renewable bioenergy applications, as its energy content is significantly higher than that of woody biomass.

A partnership chain

The main feedstock of the plant will be locally sourced forestry residue coordinated by Staatsbosbeheer. The planned reference plant builds on the synergies of the infrastructure, utilities and expertise of the AkzoNobel site in Delfzijl. RWE will supply feedstock and use bio-lignin residue from the Zambezi process for the generation of renewable energy. Chemport Europe brings strategic support from the Northern Netherlands Region working via a range of initiatives to facilitate the project. F

More about Delfzijl

Delfzijl is home to the well-known AkzoNobel’s chemical plant, on a 3 square kilometer site and is reported now to have become the second largest exporter of chemicals in the Netherlands (trailing only Rotterdam) — which flow from the busy seaport. Chlorine is a major product here, among others.

The Digest’s Take

The African tributary river from which the Zambezi River was originally discovered by Europeans was known as Rio dos Bons Sinais (“River of Good Omens”), and perhaps that’s a good sign. The Zambezi itself is long, difficult to navigate, and features a spectacular but fearsome plunge in the middle known as Victoria Falls.

It appears that the partnership of the Zambezi 5 will have a less spectacular but probably much safer transit from rivulet to river, from lab to world-scale.

One of these days, perhaps someone will find a way to tap Africa’s very own kola nut residue as a source for making Plant Bottles. The kola fruit and the kola nut casings are left over after boiling that releases the kola flavor. Those extracts of kola, plus sugar, carbonated water and some coca were the original ingredients in Coca-Cola. It’s been more than a century since Coke removed the coca and the kola eventually followed (we think, because actually very few people see the Coke recipe). But there would be something symbolically nice about making clear plastic Plant Bottles from the residue that was once left over from Coca-Cola beverage production.


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