National Icon title boosts Ioniqa with extra tailwind

october 28, 2019

Three innovative Dutch companies have earned the right to call themselves National Icon for the next two years. Among these is Ioniqa, a company that has developed technology for recycling used plastic time after time to produce a new, high-quality raw material for food packaging. The first plant has been up and running at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen since this past summer. “Plastic has become a sustainable material.”

Every two years, the Ministry of Economic Affairs awards three companies National Icon status. This year, there were dozens of candidates competing for this coveted title. “A National Icon is assigned a contact person, an ambassador to the government,” Tonnis Hooghoudt, co-founder of Ioniqa, explains. “In our case, this is the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, Stientje van Veldhoven. We can contact her with any bottlenecks we encounter in regulation and policy, for example. For us, this might be measures to encourage the collection of used plastic. We have contracted for about ten million kilos a year in Geleen but need a lot more for further upscaling. This is why a constant supply in the future is essential. In this regard, a facilitating government is important, and we now have a direct line to these agencies. How unique is that?”


Brand awareness

The National Icon title also attracts a lot of attention in the media. Just a few days after the awards presentation, Tonnis Hooghoudt was sitting down with Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, the host of the popular Dutch talk show, De Wereld Draait Door. This kind of attention is not insignificant for a start-up like Ioniqa. “Definitely. We don't plan on setting up many more production facilities ourselves, but we do want to license our technology and patents worldwide. When this is your goal, it’s important to promote yourself to different market segments worldwide. We are particularly attractive for producers of plastics and their large customers, the well-known big brands. However, increasing brand awareness is expensive, and can even be prohibitive for a start-up. Extra support is more than welcome. On a national level, this media attention is fantastic. Internationally, we can promote our invention during the Netherlands Enterprise Agency’s trade missions which usually include a government minister or state secretary among the participants. This is how we can increase awareness all over the world. Needless to say, we are very happy with this title.”


For eight years, Tonnis Hooghoudt and his team have been working on a process to  convert waste plastic into a raw material used to produce new materials. “We’re actually reversing the production process. We turn PET bottles and containers into pure molecules that are currently being made from petroleum. These molecules can then be processed by plastic producers to create new products, and this process can be repeated endlessly, makings the use of new petroleum unnecessary. It’s the ultimate way to break down the mountain of plastic waste and turn off the petroleum tap for plastic.” Last year, the Eindhoven entrepreneur was able to convince investors of the merits of his product. At a cost of ten million Euros, the first Ioniqa plant was built last spring at the Brightlands campus in Geleen and is capable of processing ten million kilos of used plastic. 


The first customers were Coca-Cola and Unilever who initially wanted to turn the “new” raw materials into safe PET bottles. “After a few months of experimentation, the plant is now up and running,” Tonnis Hooghoudt says. “There is also a sufficient supply of plastic waste for continuous production. We receive supplies from the Netherlands, Germany and France. Geleen’s central location was one of the reasons for us to set up a base of operations here rather than in Eindhoven or Rotterdam for example, where we have our head office and another demo plant.” The National Icon title also comes with obligations. “That goes without saying. I am regularly asked to participate in interviews and meetings to explain exactly what we do. This helps us put The Netherlands, Inc. on the (circular) map. I also plan on going on a lot of the trade missions. The urgency of solving the plastic waste problem is high. We need to use less petroleum in the future, become more sustainable and build a circular economy. I think this realization has dawned on a lot of people now. We have part of the solution. Petroleum is no longer needed to make plastic.”


Ioniqa is talking to various potential customers and negotiating with several international parties about licensing the technology. “We are also concentrating on new applications and products and hope to be able to recycle biological raw materials in the future. This demands completely different technology. In that respect, it’s a good thing our first plant is at the Brightlands campus. There are well-trained people here working for our organization and there are so many facilities available. We are seeing more and more established companies and start-ups ending up here. This is a great base of operations for Ioniqa.”

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