During the first year of the project, Pilots4U focused on the development of a database of open access, large-scale infrastructure for the scale-up of bio-based processes. In addition, Pilots4U carried out a survey to understand the needs of industry relating to equipment and other services provided by open access centres. A comparison of the database, demonstrating current capabilities, against survey findings emphasises where the EU may have under capacity and vulnerabilities that are holding back technology developments in the bio-based industrial sector.
Aim of Workshops
A series of workshops were organised to validate project findings through discussion with invited experts, including representatives of EU industry, research institutes, existing open access pilot facilities and SMEs, that have brought or are looking to bring innovative bio-based processes towards commercialisation. The insights gained will allow Pilots4U to develop strong business cases for targeting future investment in equipment and technical support to strengthen the European pilot plant landscape.
Maintaining networks and outputs at the end of public funding is a commonly encountered difficulty. The workshops also discussed what could be the most suitable financing models to keep the Pilots4U network of pilot plants and associated database of equipment up and running once the project terminates.
The workshops were held in four different European countries, connected to relevant conferences and events focussing on the bioeconomy. Overall, around 80 experts with a range of backgrounds and expertise attended the workshops.
Content was presented in a dynamic format that alternated short presentations, in which the project team presented the identified gaps, and discussion time with the audience which involved real-time participation and capture of comments and thoughts through on-line facilitation tools to encourage wider participation and contribution than that normally encountered in workshops.
Gaps in Equipment and Expertise
In terms of identified ‘needs’, access to equipment for downstream processing was commonly identified as an issue. For example, in liquid fermentation and biocatalysis sectors, the presence of downstream units directly connected to otherwise widely available fermenters and bioreactors was deemed to be very important. Similarly, for pulping technologies, grouping of large-scale equipment relevant to the value chain together on a single site was considered important. Linking of main processing equipment to downstream processing and extraction equipment was also a priority for thermochemical technologies.
Other equipment assets identified as important were: versatile chemical reactors capable of working at high temperatures and pressures, and in the presence of flammable solvents, which there are significant health and safety considerations. Other areas of need include access to series of small-scale pre-treatment assets to allow screening of suitable technologies, or larger assets i.e. beyond currently mostly semi pilot and pilot facilities to produce pre-commercial volumes of new bio-based materials, or to explore new pulping technologies based on the use of solvents.
Other gaps included knowledge about the upgrading of bio-oil and syngas to higher value-added products. If you want to find out more about the workshops, you can find the presentations in the event section on the project website!
Conclusions and Future Work
The workshops helped to increase the visibility of the project within the sector, and resulted in a fruitful exchange of ideas as highlighted by some of the attendees:
“Good place for cooperation and exchange of ideas among EU Pilots.” – Participant at the Pilots4U workshop in Brussels.
“Very useful workshop to share ideas & feedback about how to log & promote piloting facilities in an ongoing way - as an organisation with open-access pilot kit.” – Participant at the Pilots4U workshop in Brussels.
The list of identified gaps will be assessed, and the most urgent gaps will be developed into business cases, which will be presented to a series of investors for discussion of possible means of funding.
Future of the Database
The majority of stakeholder views were that it would be a more viable option to charge organisations for listing equipment in the database rather than charging for searching the database. Additionally, it was highlighted that providing ongoing statistics about the impact and therefore value of the database would encourage open access centres to remain associated with the database in the future to ensure it remains updated and relevant.