Shell joins Air Liquide, Nouryon in Enerkem waste-to-chemicals project in Rotterdam: the complete story

March 1, 2019 |

In the Netherlands, a consortium of world-leading companies comprising Air Liquide, Nouryon (formerly AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals), Enerkem and the Port of Rotterdam – has announced that Shell will join as a partner in Europe’s first advanced waste-to-chemicals facility in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Shell, Air Liquide, Nouryon, Enerkem– well, perhaps SANE is the right acronym, and there’s something right in that.

Shell will become an equal equity partner in the proposed commercial-scale waste-to-chemicals project, which will be the first of its kind in Europe to make valuable chemicals and biofuels out of non-recyclable waste materials.

The consortium, which has set up a dedicated joint venture company, has already undertaken extensive preparatory work, covering detailed engineering and the permitting process. It aims to take the final investment decision later in 2019 as it pursues the development work and finalizes the selection of an engineering and procurement contractor (EPC).

The project at a glance

The waste-to-chemicals project in Rotterdam is an important step towards a more sustainable chemical industry and circular economy. Leveraging Canadian cleantech Enerkem disruptive proprietary technology, the commercial-scale facility will be the first of its kind in Europe to provide a sustainable solution for non-recyclable wastes, converting unrecoverable plastics and other mixed waste streams into new raw materials. The waste-to-chemicals project in Rotterdam is a prime example of how a true circular economy can be achieved by preventing the use of fossil sources for new materials, diversifying the energy mix and by making everyday products lower carbon while offering a smart, sustainable alternative to landfilling and incineration.

The project can help the Netherlands realize its ambition to become virtually carbon-neutral by 2050.

Shell, Nouryon at ABLC 2019 to detail strategic visions

Shell and Nouryon will be on hand for plenary addresses on their strategic goals, projects and plans at ABLC 2019 in Washington DC — learn more about that here. 

The backstory

We reported in July 2018 that Enerkem was teaming with not just the Port of Rotterdam but also Akso Nobel and Air Liquide on a MSW-to-methanol plant at the port, where more than 2 million metric tons of MSW are imported annually. Akso Nobel is the key offtaker of the methanol produced from the project as it looks to shift its raw materials away from fossil fuels while Air Liquide will supply the gases required for the manufacturing process. Air Liquide is expected to continue its partnership with Enerkem as it expands into other projects around the world.

More on partnering with Nouryon in its progress towards sustainable chemistry

We reported last month that Nouryon (formerly AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals) has officially launched the third edition of its Imagine Chemistry collaborative innovation challenge. Through this program, the company invites startups, scale-ups, university spin-outs, and other potential partners to tackle chemistry-related challenges and uncover new ways to create value for customers.

To increase the focus on developing business opportunities from this year’s edition, Nouryon has expanded the number of Imagine Chemistry partners to include Unilever; seed investor High-Tech Gründerfonds; and the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), a collaboration that drives the commercial adoption of green chemistry. Also, it’s supported by venture capital firm Icos Capital; research and advisory firm Lux Research; UK innovation agency Knowledge Transfer Network; Dutch accelerator StartupDelta; the European Commission’s Enterprise Europe Network, and S/park, the chemical technology-focused open innovation center located at Nouryon’s RD&I site in Deventer.

For the 2019 edition of Imagine Chemistry, Nouryon is looking for solutions in five areas – and take note that #5 is an “open challenge” relating to sustainable chemistry which is, um, pretty wide open, to coin a phrase. “Essentially we are active in 25 different technologies,”Nieuwenhuizen noted. “if you have a solution, we are open to your ideas.”

Converting 360,000 tons of waste

The planned facility will convert up to 360,000 tons of waste into 220,000 tons (270 million litres) of bio-methanol – a chemical building block that is used to manufacture a broad range of everyday products, as well as being a renewable fuel. This represents the total annual waste of more than 700,000 households and represents a CO2 emission savings estimated at about 300,000 tons when compared to the production of methanol from fossil fuels.

The project is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate Policy, which has agreed to develop mechanisms and regulation that will help bring this new technology to full scale to support the low-carbon transition of the Dutch economy. The waste-to-chemicals project is also supported by the City of Rotterdam, the Province of Zuid-Holland and InnovationQuarter, the regional development agency.

Rotterdam diversifying beyond fuels

To date, the Port of Rotterdam had been known as the site of Abengoa’s on again – off again ethanol plant — shutdowns we reported on here and here. Despite Koole expanding biodiesel storage and block train facilities at Rotterdam port in the past year, as we reported here, Rotterdam has been best known in recent years as the site of a large Neste renewable diesel plant, at the heart of that fuel’s explosive growth story. More on that here. 

The Enerkem backstory

Though Enerkem’s showcase facility continues to be its first commercial plant in Edmonton, this waste-to-fuels pioneer has been hard at work on expansion with a dizzying slate of projects, and given that it can even more easily produce methanol than ethanol, chemicals make tremendous sense where there are not supportive policies to encourage fuel production.

We reported last month that Enerkem is looking at Massachusetts to possibly site new WTE plant, here, and in December we reported that Enerkem brokered a deal with the Twin Cities allowing it to move forward with planning an MSW-to-ethanol project, here. Last September we reported here that Enerkem was now producing bio-DME from MSW, as a replacement fuel for the diesel sector,. And, last May, we reported here that Enerkem plans to build EUR250 million facility in Spain. 

Much of the activity flows from a highly successful $223 million capital raise the company completed last February as we reported here, which included a signature $125 million investment from China’s Sinobioway.

The Shell backstory

Shell has been much more visible in the past 12 months in the advanced bioeconomy than in the previous three years — a result of re-tooling its strategy and advancing meanwhile on key partnerships and technologies. And Shell’s Energy Transition Report:, which commits to 50% lower emissions by 2050 is a driver in that — especially considering that biofuels top oil in demand by 2100 in that document’s “Sky” scenario, as we reported here.

Last month, we reported here that Shell agreed on a long-term offtake agreement with NEXT, which is developing a 600 million gallon renewable diesel project for the west Columbia River region of Oregon. and we reported in December that Shell Aviation and SkyNRG are beginning to supply sustainable aviation fuels at San Francisco airport. 

Shell’s signature technology investments are sometimes a little subtle to spot, since they are through subsidiary entities that don’t carry the Shell brand. For example, Sell and Cosan are the JV partners in Raizen, and that company has deployed Iogen technology in its first commercial plant in Costa Pinto, Brazil, and Raizen said it was scaling up cellulosic ethanol production five-fold by 2018, though we have yet to see the evidence.

Just as interesting is CRI’s IH2 technology, licensed from its original developers GTI some time ago, and now in advanced demonstration in Bangalore in India. More about that technology center here. CRI is a subsidiary of Shell — essentially, its catalyst company. As we reported in November 2017, Biozin has licensed IH2 Technology and is headed for commercial-scale in Norway. 

The Air Liquide backstory

Meanwhile, Air Liquide has also been hard at work. Most recently, we reported in February 2018 that Air Liquide Canada inaugurated new CO2 recovery facility co-located at Greenfield ethanol plant. And in November 2017 we reported that Air Liquide Engineering & Construction will design and build Cargill’s Wichita biodiesel plant, which is expected to be commissioned this year with a 60 million gallons capacity.

On the gaseous fuel side, we reported in May 2017 that Air Liquide would supply oxygen to UK’s first bio-SNG plant, that would convert 10,000 metric tons of MSW into 22GWh of bio-substitute natural gas over the next five years. The $25 million facility’s first gas is set for injection into the national grid by mid-2018. To reach the technology’s full capacity nationwide will require 11 billion cubic meters per year of oxygen, producing enough bio-SNG to fuel the country’s entire heavy vehicle fleet or a third of its household heating needs.

And back in 2015, we reported on Air Liquide’s ambition bioliq technology. Then, Air Liquide opened a second generation biofuels pilot plant in Germany in partnership with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Air Liquide’s bioliq pilot plant aims at demonstrating the feasibility of a process to produce high-quality sulfur-free fuel from residual biomass. These “second generation” biofuels are produced using the inedible part of plants.

Construction and timelines

The facility will be built within the Botlek area of the Port of Rotterdam using Enerkem’s proprietary technology, and will convert non-recyclable mixed waste, including plastics, into syngas and then into clean methanol for use in the chemical industry and for the transportation sector. This is a departure from the reality of today, where methanol is generally produced from natural gas or coal.


The plant will have two production lines, or twice the input capacity of Enerkem’s commercial plant in Edmonton, Canada. It will benefit from the state-of-the-art infrastructure available within the Port of Rotterdam, as well as synergies with Air Liquide (large industries) for supplying the required oxygen and with Nouryon, for the hydrogen raw material. The current aim is that the facility’s sustainable methanol output will be purchased by Nouryon and Shell.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“We are thrilled to have Shell join our group of partners,” says Marco Waas, Chairman of the waste-to-chemicals project in Rotterdam and Director RD&I at Nouryon. “The EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) coming into effect in 2021, as well as other environmental initiatives such as the Circular Economy Package are creating an ideal environment for leading companies to drive sustainable growth through innovation. The project will be further strengthened with the addition of another leading global partner.”


Andrew Murfin, General Manager, Advanced Biofuels, Shell, said: “Industry partnerships, just like this one, are critical to delivering some of the many solutions society will need to meet energy demand while reducing emissions to tackle climate change and air pollution. Advanced biofuels, including those produced using bio-methanol, have the potential to decarbonize the transportation sector, in particular. This is an exciting prospect given transportation accounts for one fifth of global energy-related CO2 emissions, and will continue to rely on liquid fuels, especially for long journeys and heavy-duty vehicles, for years to come.”


About the waste-to-chemicals project in Rotterdam

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