Catalysts for bio-oil

UvA spinoff InCatT BV contributes to H2020 project

1 June 2015

As part of the European Horizon2020 research programme recently the COSMOS project was launched. It aims at developing profitable, sustainable, multipurpose, non-GMO European oil crops. InCatT BV, a spinoff company of the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences at UvA, will develop new catalysts to convert the European bio-oil into useful products.

The European oleochemical industry currently relies on imported coconut oil and palm kernel oil as sources for medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA, C10–C14) and medium-chain polymer building blocks. These are essential for the production of plastics, surfactants, detergents, lubricants, plasticisers and other products.

To reduce the dependence on imports the COSMOS project aims at turning the currently underutilised domestic oil crops camelina and crambe into profitable, sustainable, multipurpose, non-GMO European oil crops. COSMOS is an acronym for 'Camelina & crambe Oil crops as Sources for Medium-chain Oils for Specialty oleochemicals'.

Crambe abyssinica

Crambe abyssinica. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Both camelina and crambe are genera within the flowering plant family  Brassicaceae.

For some of the species the oil production potential has been established, in particular for the historically cultivated Camelina sativa and for Crambe abyssinica, of which the oil has similar characteristics to whale oil. However, neither species is utilized on a large scale.

Chemical conversion

The COSMOS project, lead by scientists from the Food & Biobased Research unit at Wageningen University and Research Centre, will apply modern crop breeding technology to optimise both genera for oil production in an industrial perspective. Extracted oils will be fractionated into various fatty acid types (monounsaturated versus polyunsaturated) by selective enzyme technologies and extraction processes.

The monounsaturated long-chain fatty acids so obtained will be converted to medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) and high-value building blocks for bio-plastics and flavour and fragrance ingredients through chemical and enzymatic chain cleavage processes. HIMS spinoff company InCatT BV will employ its expertise and infrastructure to develop the chemical conversion route. The company will develop new catalysts with unprecedented selectivity, yielding new molecular building  blocks for the production of components for the polymers and the flavours & fragrances industries.

Catalyst libraries

InCatT technology

Detail of InCatT's technology for evolutionary catalyst development. Image: InCatT BV.

InCatT BV was established in 2009 under the umbrella of UvA Holding, in collaboration with the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences of the University of Amsterdam and UvA catalysis professor Joost Reek.

InCatT’s technology is based on the concept of supramolecular catalysis, developed and patented at the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences by researchers of the group on Homogenous, Ssupramolecular and Bio-inspired catalysis under the direction of professor Reek.

InCatT focuses on producing and testing homogenous catalysts for its clients. Library catalysts are tested using a unique evolutionary technique in order to identify the best catalyst for the catalytic process. After the best catalyst has been determined, a kinetic profile of the catalyst is made, which provides insight into upscaling processes.

InCatT approach

Image: InCatT BV.

Eighteen project partners

InCatT BV  is one of 18 project partners in Cosmos, of which 50% are SMEs and large enterprises and the remaining 50% are universities and research institutes. The total funding is almost 11 million euros. The duration of the project will be 4.5 year.

Published by  HIMS