For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!
Bekijk de site in het Nederlands

Gert-Jan Gruter, professor by special appointment of Industrial Sustainable Chemistry at the UvA, has been nominated for European Patent Office (EPO) prize for his invention in the field of bioplastics

Prof Gert-Jan Gruter, professor Industrial Sustainable Chemistry
Credits: Dirk Gillissen

Every day, hundreds of millions of plastic bottles are sold around the world, imposing a heavy burden on the environment. Aside from post-consumer plastic waste issues, these bottles rely on fossil-fuel-derived chemicals, require a significant amount of energy for production and leave behind a considerable CO2 footprint. Prof. Dr. Gert-Jan Gruter and his team at company Avantium have developed an environmentally-friendly alternative: a plant-based bioplastic called PEF that requires no petrochemicals, is completely recyclable and cuts associated COemissions by up to 50-70%.

For this achievement, Gert-Jan Gruter has been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2017 as one of three finalists in the category "Small and medium-sized enterprises". The winners of the 12th edition of the European Patent Office (EPO)’s annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Venice on 15 June.

"Gert-Jan Gruter has developed a new method that for developing bioplastics on a commercial scale," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli, announcing the European Inventor Award 2017 finalists. "His invention is a major step forward in reducing the environmental impact from plastics, and it demonstrates that we can overcome some of our biggest challenges through innovation."

New plastics needed

"To make the transition from fossil feedstock to sustainable plastics, we have to rely on biomass," says Gruter. "But for this we need new materials. That's the only way to bring about this change."

Gruter has taken aim at the fourth most commonly used plastic polymer, polyethylene terephthalate, best known for the ubiquitous plastic bottles which sport its acronym: PET. The possibility to create an adequate PET substitute had been theorised since the early part of the 21st century. However, an efficient method to create large amounts of the necessary intermediary chemical furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) remained elusive. "Over the past 100 years, more than 1 000 publications and patents have been published on FDCA and its precursors," says Gruter. "Neither research nor any of these patents had resulted in a viable method of producing this material in large quantities, and at competitive prices."

Gruter and his team took a new approach and developed a chemical, catalytic process that efficiently creates FDCA from simple plant sugars (starch). The process, which the Dutch chemicals company dubs YXY (pronounced “icksy”) has paved the way for a new bio-based polymer: polyethylene furanoate (PEF).

Public private collaboration

Gert-Jan Gruter is Chief Technology Officer of the chemical company Avantium. With his appointment as professor by special appointment at the Van ’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) of the UvA in 2016 a link was made with the Research priority area Sustainable chemistry of the UvA. Since than UvA en Avantium team up to work on the fundaments of sustainable bio inspired materials.