BioBTX advances waste to aromatics

Making aromatic compounds from waste has proved a difficult nut to crack. But after raising more than €80 million (about $87 million) in funding, the Dutch start-up BioBTX says it could be producing high-value aromatic compounds from waste plastics and biomaterials by late 2026.

The company’s plan is to build a facility in Groningen, the Netherlands, with the capacity to convert about 20,000 metric tons (t) of waste annually into compounds such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes.

“If we can build this plant with €80 million, it will show that we can build bigger plants after that,” says Peter J. Nieuwenhuizen, a bioindustry veteran who was involved in fundraising for the new plant. Future plants could process around 200,000 t of waste per year, he says. The feedstock for the first plant will be mostly postconsumer mixed plastic waste.

BioBTX’s technology consists of a pyrolysis step that vaporizes biomass and plastics into hydrocarbons and a catalytic step that uses a zeolite-based catalyst to convert the hydrocarbons into aromatic compounds.

“The separation of the two steps allows us to be flexible,” says Tijmen Vries, head of strategic development for BioBTX. The firm has been testing its process for the past few years in a pilot facility in Groningen. The tests show that the process can recover more than 50% of the carbon in the waste material in the form of aromatic oils, Vries says.

BioBTX has raised the money from investors including the chemical maker Covestro and venture capital firms. More than $15 million of the new funding comes from the Dutch government and the European Commission.

Other projects to convert waste into aromatics have hit setbacks. Encina recently shelved plans to build a $1.1 billion plant in Pennsylvania that would have converted postconsumer plastic waste into aromatic compounds and other chemicals. The company says it has experienced an increase in interest from potential customers and now wants to build a bigger plant at another US site that can accommodate it.

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