New bio-based processes and products

The bio base Europe pilot plant


The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) is located in the port of Ghent (Belgium) and represents a leading European facility for the development of new bio-based processes and products to be used in many different industrial processes. The construction of the Pilot Plant started in 2009 with the financial support of Flanders, The Netherlands and the European Commission. The Pilot Plant now comprises reactors for biomass pretreatment and enzymatic conversions (from lab scale up to 50,000 liters) and fermenters for both aerobic (batch, fed-batch, continuous, up to 15,000 liters), anaerobic and gas processes, a wide range of downstream processing equipment for biomass separation and to recover and purify the product of interest from the fermentation broth. The auxiliary analytical equipment includes HPLC and GC off gas analysis and data logging,

«The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant started with two grants of approximately 20 millions € in total: we used that money to buy a equipment and modify the existing fire station into a pilot plant– tells Muriel Dewilde, Business Development manager at BBEPP – By the end of 2010 we started running projects for our customers. In the mean time, we have grown as a company to approx. 60 employees, for the major part engineers and operators. There are also people active in acquiring projects».

The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant has been selected by the European Commission as one of the four demonstrator multi-KETs pilot lines, a project terminated in 2015 under which the entire eco-system of the demonstrators has been mapped out, including best practices, hurdles, technological and organizational aspects, financing mechanisms. The so-called Key enabling technologies (KETs) are thought to be able to directly or indirectly stimulate Europe’s competitiveness and generate jobs, growth and wealth.

Bilateral projects or European consortia

There are two different possibilities to access the services offered by the BBEPP: bilateral projects are negotiated directly by the interested company and the Pilot Plant, while consortium projects are funded by the European Commission under several financial schemes and collect many industrial, SMEs and academic partners. More than 180 projects with Belgian as well as international companies have been run so far at the BBEPP, and the Pilot Plant has been also a partner in 26 public consortia with 123 partners. Being an independent facility, with no industrial shareholders, BBEPP’s revenues come from the projects, which represents the only source of financing at the moment, explains Muriel Dewilde.

«In January this year, for example, we secured another European fund, ERDF, of approx 9,36 mln €, which we will invest in gas fermentation and purification equipment. We will build a fourth pilot production hall, that will contain new downstream processing equipment. It will allow us to run more diverse projects», tells Mrs. Dewilde. The financing of the new project comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) together with The Flanders authorities and it will be used to build up new research infrastructure specifically for gas fermentation and downstream processing.

«We are a service company, we don’t sell our own products. We are open to collaboration with new customers or within new consortium projects. The companies’ first contact is the business development team», further explains Muriel Dewilde. The collaboration is regulated by the signature of a service agreement that specifies the type of services requested at the BBEPP, for example the need for development or the scale up of production, the availability of all the needed equipment and the costs for the interested company. «This is a very flexible way of communicating and collaborating. The services we provide for our customers are three fold: we do process development, scale up and custom manufacturing. The preceding research is usually performed by our customers, or through collaborations with universities or research institutes», adds the BBEPP’s Business Development manager.

A flexible and multi-purpose technology

The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant enables the conversion of biomass (a.o. agricultural crops and by-products, industrial side streams) into biochemicals, biomaterials, biofuels and other bioproducts. The Belgian facility allows to run the entire production chain in one single plant, from biomass feedstock up to final refined products. The experts of the BBEPP usually work on the basic protocol transmitted by the company in order to optimise it through the internal research, which can be directed towards scale up of the process up to custom manufacturing of the desired final product. «We produce all of our products in state-of-the-art equipment that can be bought off the shelf, we don’t develop equipment», explains Mrs. Dewilde. The Pilot Plant also has projects in the pulp and paper sector, for example in order to hydrolyse paper pulp, which is one of the largest biomass streams in Belgium, explains the Business Development Manager. The flexibility of the Pilot Plant allows to answer to any kind of request coming from customers and that can be addressed using biomass as the starting materials. Some examples of projects include the isolation of lignin from biomass or the production of several substances by fermentation to be used in the food and nutraceutical industry.

Biocatalysis is another possibility offered by the Bio Bases European Pilot Plant: in this case, the reaction might use a single enzyme or a whole cell biocatalyst system, also using immobilisation techniques, and can be run both in aqueous or solvent media. Green chemistry processes are run in ATEX compliant installations. Biomass pre-treatment includes mechanical, thermal, physico-chemical and enzymatic operations on the feedstocks and is supported by logistics and storage facilities, such as truck (un)loading docks, a 55 ton silo for bulk solid biomass storage, vessels up to 125 m³ for liquid storage and dedicated areas for IBC storage.