Bilfinger Magazine: keeping up with the pace of energy transition
“If we want to achieve the goals in the climate agreement, we need to move forward now with the resources that are available.” That is the opinion of Gabriël Tschin, director of Plant One Rotterdam, which makes the resources available to keep up with the pace of energy transition.
Plant One Rotterdam B.V. operates a unique location on the Huntsman site in the Botlek, a harbor and industrial area in Rotterdam. In the main hall and outside, there are various large multinationals, start-ups, water companies, and (petro)chemical companies with different setups that want to test innovative ideas, sustainable technologies, or circular solutions on a commercial scale and need pilot facilities for this.
“For Pryme Cleantech, for example,” says director Gabriël Tschin, “an industrial demo plant has been built that converts waste plastics into raw materials for the chemical industry. They turn the waste into new plastic; infinite recycling, in other words.” Another test facility is run by the company Ioniqa Circular. “This facility dissolves the material from PET bottles, carpets, and clothing and breaks it down into a colorless material. The company uses smart circular magnetic fluids to transform waste materials into the highest quality raw materials.”
Down the drain
Plant One started in 2009 with a substantial start-up subsidy from former Minister Maria van der Hoeven. After six years, the innovation center proved to be heavily loss-making, and the subsidy providers pulled the plug on the project. However, Gabriël Tschin, who has been involved with Plant One from day one, saw the potential. “So I re-launched it as Plant One Rotterdam B.V. Just as an SME and without a subsidy. My experience with subsidies is that a lot of it goes down the drain. All kinds of advisors have to be hired, and excessive bureaucratic procedure is created. These intermediaries cause delays and absorb a lot of money, and as a result, very little of the subsidy amount goes towards actual innovation.”
The strictest safety regulations
“We created partitions in the enormous empty hall that remained,” Tschin continues. "We now have 17 test facilities there. All the test facilities we build here are subject to the strictest safety regulations. We have an umbrella environmental permit (in Dutch: Wabo) that the tenants can benefit from.” They can outsource the entire research process at Plant One Rotterdam. We employ our own engineers who collaborate and brainstorm with their client and build the installation according to the client's specifications. In addition, we have laboratories and lab technicians available to examine the test results, and qualified operators to operate and maintain the installations. Then it doesn't take long before you have a proof of concept.”
Tschin believes in the transition to sustainable processes and installations. “You need to speed up that process now with what’s available and not wait for Columbus' egg to be found. We recently built a test facility in which a pyrolysis reactor can process ten thousand tons of used car tires into oil and carbon black. With two additional process steps, high-quality end products can be made at a competitive price. This is how we could provide a circular solution for worn-out car tires. “Circular solutions, that’s the direction you want to go in.”
Plant One Rotterdam is extending its circular objective into its operational management. In the break room, everything is made of used materials: facades from a second-hand online auction site, reused tables, and ceilings made of discarded tabletops. “All the materials from completed innovative projects are also reused as much as possible,” says Tschin. “This is possible because we can set up the hall as we see fit. We provide a clean and safe working environment, but with recycled materials. That's also one way we can cut costs for our tenants.”
Tschin notices that his customers, mostly from the chemical sector, are eager to make the transition. “Developments in chemistry have never happened so quickly: innovation is progressing at breakneck speed. The long-standing restraint and caution in the sector are a thing of the past. Companies are more open with each other and want to collaborate. This is also due to the depletion of fossil fuels. So change is necessary. The government has to set clear frameworks,” Tschin believes, “for example, a fixed price for CO2 emissions. We all have to work together.”
Under the leadership of Gabriël Tschin, Plant One Rotterdam has grown into a company with 60 employees. “But within a year we will add another 40 process operators, some of whom we will train in collaboration with the Shipping and Transport College. The company will soon be under double management. “I don't think I am ideally suited for some director's tasks,” explains Tschin. “I can be quite straightforward and, frankly, I'd rather get my hands dirty and build installations. That's why Fer Klinckhamers will become Co-Director. With his extensive experience in the chemical industry and interest in sustainable development, we are all taking Plant One Rotterdam to the next level.”