VoltaChem in action: Growing significance of industrial electrification

17-03-2020 | Program update

An overview of the VoltaChem activities and highlights

VoltaChem in action: Growing significance of industrial electrificationPushing technology development from research & innovation towards piloting and demonstration in an international context, that's what it's all about at VoltaChem. 2019 saw considerable growth in projects as well as in partners, and important steps have been made in important fields such as the conversion of biobased feedstocks to high-value chemical building blocks, the integrated capture and conversion of CO2, and the development of paired electrosynthesis concepts. A state-of-the art research infrastructure has been established for the low-cost manufacturing of electrolyzers and components, and adding to the expertise in PEM and alkaline technology promising progress has been made in Solid Oxide Electrolysis.

Martijn de Graaff these days is a busy man. From early morning, quite often until late in the evening, he is occupied with meetings, presentations, negotiations, and much more. His crammed schedule is one of the indicators of VoltaChem's success. "Indeed", De Graaff says, "we really have made great progress and 2019 has been quite a good year for VoltaChem! We have seen considerable growth in projects as well as in partners. In particular, we have welcomed quite a few important companies from the petrochemical industry, such as Corbion, Sabic, and DSM, to our community. The VoltaChem Community now includes a good representation of the chemical industry, equipment suppliers as well as energy companies. These are the three sectors of relevance to our mission: Accelerating industrial electrification. So all in all the significance of our work is clearly growing. There is more interest in our activities, more traction in the market, and more involvement of the business community."


The 40-page booklet VoltaChem in Action2019 provides a full overview of VoltaChem's activities and progress.

De Graaff is eager to mention a few highlights, such as the European Union funded PERFORM project. It focuses on the paired electrochemical conversion of biobased feedstocks to important chemical building blocks for plastics production. In 2019 the first designs of a single cell electrochemical flow reactor were delivered, and the coming two years will see the construction of a TRL-6 pilot installation. "This is exactly what we aim for at VoltaChem", De Graaff explains, "bringing novel electrochemical concepts to industrial maturity in a cooperative fashion with all relevant stakeholders. PERFORM will lead to a highly energy efficient and cost effective production of biobased plastics, contributing to circular and CO2 neutral materials production."

Another important route towards closing the carbon cycle is the utilization of CO2. Here, VoltaChem is supporting promising developments such as integrated capture and conversion of CO2, and paired electrosynthesis concepts. De Graaff mentions the e-COUCH project that has the potential to achieve substantial CO2 reduction in the production of polyurethanes if implemented in industry. "In 2019 the first proof-of-principles were obtained and we aim for development into larger scales in the coming years." Another highlight is the electrosynthesis of DME and formic acid in the INTERREG project E2C ('Electrons to high-value chemical products'). It has delivered the designs for a pilot installation that will be built in 2020. "All in all we see good prospects for developing integrated capture and conversion of carbon dioxide to high-value chemical products such as formic acid, oxalic acid and carbon monoxide", says De Graaff.

Furthermore, VoltaChem has recently started a program on the low-cost manufacturing of electrolyzers and components. The industrial focus here is in particular on developing PEM (proton exchange membrane) and alkaline technology. De Graaff is enthusiastic about the research infrastructure that is available from 2020 onwards, such as the Faraday Lab in Petten, the Hydrohub MegaWatt Test Center in Groningen, and the Field Lab Rotterdam. He is also excited about the growing activities in Solid Oxide Electrolysis (SOE) that enables high-temperature electrolysis. "We now are able to produce SOE cells at a size of 20x20 cm2 at the Faraday Lab and are working towards an international program with industrial partners to further develop the potential of this technology for cost-efficient water electrolysis, co-electrolysis, and reversible electrolysis/fuel cell operation."

Finally, VoltaChem puts effort in charting developments that determine the future of large-scale electrification. De Graaff mentions the e-fuels innovation roadmap and the cooperation with end-users in this field, in particular in aviation and logistics. "It is crucial to obtain knowledge of this market, both in the short and the long term. It provides the objectives for technology-oriented follow-up projects regarding the fuels value chain.” Another important project is the Trilateral Infrastructure Project that charts the major changes in the industrial chemical clusters in the northwest of Europe towards 2030 and 2050. "This is an impactful, interregional project together with Dechema, VITO, and industrial parties, where we chart the electrification options in these clusters on short- and long-term and the implications for cross-border transport infrastructure for commodity feedstock and energy. This provides direction for focus in infrastructure and technology development and we already see that the knowledge and experience gained in the study leads to new projects in the countries involved."

The VoltaChem mission

Both the growth of the industrial electrification field in general and the growth in projects in the program underpin the need for a clear positioning of VoltaChem, says De Graaff. "Our mission lies in pushing technology development from research & innovation towards piloting and demonstration. Or, in terms of technology readiness levels, by bringing novel electrification concepts from TRL 3-5 towards TRL 5-7." This matches the needs of society, according to De Graaff: "The subject of electrification is clearly on the agenda now. We see that the generation of ideas and concepts is quite well-covered in academia. At the other end of the spectrum is building and demonstrating commercial plants, which requires the expertise of many companies. By connecting these two phases of technology development, VoltaChem can and will be of relevance." 

And since accelerating electrification is not just about technology but also about collaboration and building networks of experts and companies, that is the second important aspect of the VoltaChem mission. "The international dimension is very important here", says the Graaff. "Our expertise and research infrastructure are mainly based in the Netherlands, but our focus is international. Industrial electrification is all about international value chains, and about companies that are active in many countries. Our focus in business development is mostly on Europe and specifically the Antwerp-Rheir-Ruhr cluster, because that's where we think the real potential lies for electrification of the chemical industry. But we work together with partners across the globe since this transition is not bound to borders. "

Do you want to know more about the activities in VoltaChem’s shared innovation program? Then please get in contact with our business development team.



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