Employees work to make the chemical industry more sustainable

Green Chemistry, New Economy (GCNE) is helping to make the chemical industry greener

The Dutch chemical sector faces a crucial challenge: greening within twenty to thirty years. To achieve this, we need revolutionary ‘game-changers’ with breakthrough innovations, as well as new forms of collaboration. As co-founders of the Green Chemistry, New Economy (GCNE) platform, we’re committed to a greener chemical industry. We’re facilitating chain formation, bringing parties together for funding, policy development, and monitoring. Together, we’re working towards a sustainable future.

Capital-intensive industry

Developing innovations for green production methods in chemistry takes years. Many of these capital-intensive innovations encounter barriers long before they’re adopted. ‘Only after a new technology has proved itself at scale does it become easier for buyers and suppliers to get on board with it. This proof must be provided, for example, by a demonstration plant, and such plants are expensive. Investors aren’t eager to fill this gap when the market is not yet jumping in’, explains Anita Lieverdink.

As ‘Senior Orchestrator’ at TNO Vector, Anita is tasked with guiding the adoption of innovations. In this role, she understands this ‘Valley of Death’ of new technology like no other. ‘This “valley” has to be bridged with funding, among other things. Fortunately, there are now increasing ways to do this, such as with the National Growth Fund or Invest-NL. With Green Chemistry, New Economy (GCNE), we now have a group of various financiers committed to us, and together we are working to bridge the gap between financiers and the business community.’

‘Such collaborations need new business models that distribute the burdens and benefits well among the chain partners. That’s where we need to help the game-changers and their supply chain partners.’ - Anita Lieverdink, Senior Innovation Orchestrator

New value chains in chemistry

But a lack of risk funding is not the only obstacle to scaling up. For a game-changer in the chemical industry to operate at scale, it actually needs to develop a new product for a new market. To do so, collaboration with partners in the existing ‘ecosystem’ is essential. ‘The formation of new value chains – or, viewed from the perspective of circularity, “value circles” – is incredibly complex. This mode of collaboration requires new business models that distribute the burdens and benefits well among chain partners. This where we need to help the game-changers and their supply chain partners.’

Finally, the government must also steer them in the right direction, Lieverdink believes. ‘Public authorities must create the conditions and provide sufficient security. This could, for example, take the form of licences, agreements and regulations for bio-based raw materials, or the option to use waste streams as raw materials. Within the GCNE platform, we’re also working with regional and national governments to put policy issues that game-changers are facing on the agenda, explore potential solution avenues, and, where possible, set them in motion.’

From sowing to harvesting

After a phase of laying the groundwork, the implementation of GCNE started in 2022. Since then, the first programmes have been conceived and set up. The ‘Biobased Circular’ proposal, for example, which was submitted to the National Growth Fund, has now also been honoured. And the second round of the Green Chemistry Accelerator will start in October 2023. Lieverdink: ‘The coming strategy period from 2024 to 2026 will be about expanding, persevering, and harvesting. This transition will require patience. This is why we’re further strengthening the organisation and attracting more participants.’

TNO Vector has several roles to play in this field. ‘I’m taking on the role of programme manager. We’re also monitoring progress, validating innovations, and mapping the impact of innovations and interdependencies’, Lieverdink outlines. ‘In addition, we’re guiding chain formation within the Biobased Chemicals programme, following our methodology of collaborative business models.’

Lieverdink enjoys talking about multiregional collaboration within GCNE. ‘We’re connecting various regions, types of parties, and sectors. We’re driving, taking new initiatives, and genuinely helping parties to transition – in a very tangible way, such as through the Green Chemistry Accelerator. This programme supports start-ups by removing barriers, “massaging” the market, and attracting the right investors. This is now starting to bear fruit among participants, such as at Paques Biomaterials’ new demonstration plant. Knowledge is always the foundation, and progressive innovators are the chemical industry’s game-changers.’