The starting point of the BioVoice programme is the demand by a large enterprise for a biobased solution or biobased product for an existing problem. Start-ups and SMEs are invited to respond to these challenges. The first round of such challenges took place this spring.
Challenge as the starting point
‘Accepting a challenge really is the starting point for a further knowledge exchange,’ says BioVoice Programme Manager Bob Houpst of regional development company REWIN, the initiator of this programme together with Green Chemistry Campus. ‘It is not only company A that helps company B. We want to jointly accelerate the biobased transition, build up knowledge and create a successful and leading knowledge region in the field of applied biobased enterprise.’
Access to financing
In the first BioVoice round, seven challenges issued by three companies were launched. From the many responses, nineteen start-ups and SMEs were ultimately selected. Of these, thirteen signed an innovation contract with the challengers as a basis for the collaboration. Houpst: ‘An innovation contract provides access to various things, such as financing through vouchers. These, for example, are spent at knowledge and application centres in the region.’ In this round, the Rabobank made one hundred thousand euros available for innovation vouchers and due to this success, the Province of Noord-Brabant provided another twenty-five thousand euros for innovation vouchers from its programme financing fund.
Achieving increased yield
The agro-industrial cooperative Royal Cosun manufactures sugar and other products from its sugar beets. Cosun wants to increase its yield from sugar beets. The company for this purpose is investigating whether and how it can optimise the economic return of its beets. One of the questions the company is asking itself is: ‘where and how can we increase the economic return of the substances in sugar beet pulp, particularly pectin and pectin fragments, galacturonic acid and arabinose, in non-food markets?’. To effectively answer that question requires partners with knowledge of non-food products and markets, and Cosun has found these partners through BioVoice. Gova and Nimaro Ageno Consult are two of these partners.
Gova, the largest grower of bay laurels in Europe, has been working on developing new products from laurel plants and its residues in Nispen (NL) for years. One of the products that Goossens and his team are working on is a natural crop protection agent. This in turn led to the idea of investigating whether this would also be possible using the various substances in sugar beets. A review of the literature produced sufficient reference points for the company to register for the Cosun challenge, says Charl Goossens of Gova.
A long road
Goossens: ‘We believe that the substances in the ancillary sugar beet and chicory flows can be used as crop protection agents. But of course this does not mean that you can simply pour the stuff over a plant and that the insects or pathogenic fungi simply die off. It requires a great deal of research and testing and that in turn takes a great deal of time and effort. The road from idea to product is a long one, full of humps and bumps, and furthermore costly, as we well know from experience. New products must not only work effectively, they must also be safe and they must be certified. Especially the latter takes a great deal of time due to the strict laws and regulations. By collaborating and going down the same path together, we create a valuable cross-over between ornamental horticulture and agriculture. Each party on the basis of his own sector and with his own knowledge supplementing the other. For example, we have an extraction technology that Cosun does not have. In reverse, Cosun, for example, can conduct tests with the beets or chicory and provide analysis facilities that we do not have. This way you help each other.’
Greening polyurethane foam
Nimaro Ageno Consult is a consulting firm for product development in the chemical industry and also responded to the Cosun challenge. The firm’s Henri Grünbauer believes there are opportunities to use beet pulp for greening polyurethane foam. ‘Polyols cost a thousand euros per tonne or more, and are an important constituent of polyurethane foam. If you can replace this with a biobased product – in this case – derived from beet pulp, you will be able to cash in. This is because the market for this is gigantic. We are currently in the research phase. I have studied the literature, analysed patents and produced various foams based on the pulp. At the end of this journey, I will prepare a report with my findings that must provide for sufficient reference points for a follow-up study, for Cosun and for me. If that turns out to be the case, we will initiate a development project.’
Familiar with pulp
Grünbauer was already somewhat familiar with the beet pulp phenomenon, he says. ‘Throughout the world every sugar producer is faced with the same problem of extracting value from the pulp. Research is therefore being conducted in this area, but no one is taking real action because often it proves impossible to develop a viable business case. For a good business case, you must be innovative enough to bring a good idea to the forefront and you must be capable of linking the financial dimension to the commercial dimension. For example, the sugar industry is used to working with water in the production process and therefore does so almost automatically in an experimental situation as well. My first question was, why are you using water? Is it by force of habit? I started working with other additives.’
One of the questions the parties must answer as part of the innovation programme is how much money they think they will be earning after two years. Grünbauer about his ‘case study’: ‘Cosun’s answer was: nothing. It will cost at least two hundred thousand euros and it will take at least five years. This is why I find it commendable that in spite of this answer, BioVoice was nevertheless prepared to invest money in this.’ Goossens and Grünbauer are therefore happy with the financial and practical support provided by BioVoice. Goossens: ‘The innovation voucher is welcome, but we are also investing a great deal of time and money in this ourselves.’ Grünbauer: ‘I am participating because it provides an opening to a potential major customer. I am not doing this for the vouchers.’ Both think they will be able to come up with the initial results in December.
Work is also well underway on the case studies proposed by the other two challengers: Rodenburg Biopolymers and Cargill. Houpst: ‘Definitely, these are just two examples. The other eleven are also hard at work on furthering their ideas. I am happy to tell you more about that in a next issue.’
For current updates about the ongoing innovation projects, visit the programme’s website: biovoice.nl.
This article was created in cooperation wirh Biobased Delta