"Unfortunately, too many countries are stuck in the fossil fuel economy, but everyone needs to be prepared for the big change that is coming."
BioBTX technology makes the transition towards a greener chemical industry. BioBTX replaces oil for biomass and waste as a resource for the production of sustainable materials. The company has developed a unique and commercially attractive integrated catalytic pyrolysis process that maximises BTX yield and minimises operational costs. The small firm is based in the Netherlands and last year was announced the winner of the Bio-Chemical Innovation of the Year in Europe. This was for their terephthalic acid from crude glycerine which has made it possible to convert waste streams, with high efficiencies into valuable products. This week Emily O’Dowd spoke to the Chief Technology Officer, Niels Schenk who is responsible for technology development. As a technology provider, Schenk has a crucial role in the company. With only five people in the firm, they are making good progress after recent conversations with new investors. Emily was able to chat to Schenk during an exciting time of progression in the company.
Emily O’Dowd ( @BioBasedEmily ) (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Niels Schenk (NS): My career first started when I studied for a Master’s degree in Organic Synthesis. After obtaining this qualification I was a trained chemist, but I then decided to study for a PhD in environmental sciences. I wanted to be able to use my knowledge of chemistry to try and make the world greener and more environmentally friendly. Before acquiring my role as a CTO, I started off as a consultant for energy and bio-based products. I have been with Bio-BTX since the very beginning when it was my first research project at university. A year later, I turned the project into a profit-making company.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
NS: It’s the best job I could have asked for! I feel very lucky that I am able to combine my two passions in life which are chemistry and the environment. BioBTX has become part of my ambition to make the world better by using technology and chemistry to make things greener. To me, it doesn’t even feel like working. When we receive awards like the Bio-Based World News’ Bio-Chemical Innovation of the year, it makes my role all the more worthwhile. It’s great to see how we are really making a difference.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Bio-Based Live Europe 2017 awards!
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
NS: I think the biggest challenge that we have had to face as a company is the fact that we are in the middle of a very fundamental change. I imagine that in the next ten years the world will be completely different in terms of the renewable energy space. Even the way that we will be using materials and chemicals will have changed. So for our business, it is important that we compete alongside new emerging businesses. There will always be winners and losers, but it is important for us to stay prepared and emerge as one of the winners in the end.
Not only will materials have changed but the economy will too. As new practices and solutions emerge, the economy will start to have a bio-based focus. However, I think some countries are able to move faster than others. Unfortunately, too many countries are stuck in the fossil fuel economy, but everyone needs to be prepared for the big change that is coming. And lastly of course – in this bio-based world we still have to make profit!
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the bio-based industry?
NS: You need to enjoy it! By being involved in this industry you are automatically part of a revolution to make the world a better place. Secondly, I would suggest that you shouldn’t focus too much on the research side of the business, because most of the technology will have already been invented. Therefore, the main challenge you will face is how to commercialise these technologies and enter the market. It is important to focus on scaling the technology that has already become available.
EOD: What single change would help develop the bio-based industry further?
NS: Part of the problem for areas in Europe is the lack of focus that bio-based business are given. There is no clear indication of how policies are emerging. This lack of direction could be discouraging new start-ups in the industry. Essentially, the way I see it is that the government and the politicians are responsible for the playing field, and the companies are the players. As a result, the companies have to obey the rules that are set by the politicians.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
NS: In five years’ time I would like to see the opening of the first commercial scale demonstration plant. I believe that with our technology there is potential to make real profit and compete alongside fossil fuel based companies. Additionally, I would like the opportunity to partner with other companies along the value chain to realise our commercial potential. These are two things I think we can achieve in this time frame. We are an ambitious team so I would hope to see these advancements in the business in the next four years as well as employing more staff to join our team.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your business?
NS: Although an obvious one, my favourite bio-based and sustainable material is wood. There are so many benefits to using it for construction and around the home so long as it is ethically sourced.
EOD: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today Niels, I look forward to hearing about these new developments in the company and wish you every success.
Last week's 5 minutes with... Tom Cridland, CEO and Founder of Tom Cridland.
Next week's 5 minutes with... Julia Schifta, Business Development Manager of Tipa.
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