Yokogawa supports Swiss start-up on biomass breakthrough 27 August 2020

Bloom Biorenewables staff

Yokogawa Electric Corporation announces that it has signed an investment and partnership agreement with Bloom Biorenewables, a Swiss start-up company focusing on the utilisation of biomass, with the aim of developing business opportunities in the bioeconomy field.

The two companies will collaborate on the commercialisation of a breakthrough technology from Bloom that maximizes the extraction of lignin from plant material to replace petrochemicals in a range of chemical products.

Yokogawa and Bloom are both undertaking initiatives to promote the bioeconomy, which involves the utilization of biomass and biotechnology to solve global issues such as the depletion of natural resources and climate change and enable long-term, sustainable growth. The agreement brings together Bloom's lignin extraction technology with Yokogawa's advanced technologies and knowhow related to the automation of industrial production processes, as well as its global sales network.

Lignin is found in great abundance in trees and other biomass as one of the main structural components that binds together with cellulose and hemicelluloses to form plant cell wall structures. It is composed of monolignol, which is a kind of phenolic. Phenolics are currently synthesized mainly from petroleum and used as a key raw material for many chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and functional chemicals such as inks and fragrances. For petrochemical substitution, the decomposition of lignin into monolignol is a necessary step. However, because of lignin’s diverse and complicated molecular structure, this has proven difficult to achieve at a commercial scale.

Established in January 2019 as a spinoff from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Bloom is initially focusing on commercialising its new, far more efficient method of extracting lignin, especially monolignol, from biomass material such as wood. Its immediate goal is to demonstrate the technology in a pilot-scale plant.

Bloom’s CEO, Dr. Remy Buser, commented, “This new collaboration will help strengthen interactions with large industrial groups, drive internationalization, and ultimately accelerate market entry, which are all essential factors for countering climate change and having a significant impact.”

Tsuyoshi Abe, a Yokogawa senior vice president, and head of the marketing headquarters, added, “Yokogawa aims to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through its core business activities, and the bioeconomy is a focus area in our long-term business framework. Lignin has huge long-term potential as a petroleum replacement, and we have high expectations that together we can contribute to the increased utilization of biomass by integrating Bloom’s outstanding technology and Yokogawa’s decades of experience in industry.”

With lead investment from Yokogawa, Bloom’s latest funding round reached Eur 2.9million. The investment will be used to complete a biomass fractionation pilot project begun in January 2020 in HEIA Fribourg, with support from Innosuisse.

William Dalrymple

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