Technology developer and producer Demcon has acquired Suster, a spin-off of Twente University in the field of chemistry and process technology. Through research and process development, Suster contributes to greening the process industry. The acquisition enables Suster to carry out larger and more complex assignments relating to the recycling and valorization of waste materials. Demcon in turn gains new competencies with which to have more impact in the energy transition, for example in relation to hydrogen and battery technology. ‘Furthermore, we see many opportunities in sustainable process technology and the circular economy for the Demcon group.’
Suster continues to build onto the chemical and process technological research that has earned Twente University (UT) a leading international reputation. The company was founded in 2016 by Roel Westerhof, Bert Heesink, Bert Koning, UT professor emeritus Wim van Swaaij and current UT professors Wim Brilman and Sascha Kersten. In 2021 Bert Koning joined as a shareholder. All of the company’s founders have studied or worked at UT and in addition acquired a lot of experience in industry. Suster focuses on R&D, process development and the design and construction of pilot plants. Suster works in various areas, such as the conversion of biomass into valuable bio-fuels and biochemicals, the reprocessing of waste streams and the recycling of plastics such as Perspex and aramid, known for its super-strong fibers, together with the Enschede-based company Coraltech of Erik Verbeek. Suster is also actively involved in the area of CO2 capture, the conversion of CO2 captured from the atmosphere or gas flows into useful substances, such as methanol. This way it serves clients in various segments that want to green their processes, such as the petrochemical and chemical industry, plastics and paper industry, metal sector, food industry, equipment manufacturing industry, energy sector and waste processing sector. Thermodynamic conversion processes are often used that operate under high temperature, and sometimes high pressure as well. The challenge lies in optimizing the quality and yield of products produced under these extreme conditions.
Strength and growth prospects
Suster currently has 10 employees and is growing fast. This requires the expansion of laboratory facilities, personnel capacity and competencies, professionalization of the procurement, HR and sales functions, and management support. To secure its continuity and future growth, Suster decided to look for a strategic acquisition partner. ‘Things immediately clicked with Demcon,’ says Bert Heesink, Suster’s managing director. This proved mutual and Demcon recently acquired a majority interest in Suster, whereby all existing shareholders continue to be involved in the company, substantively as well as financially. ‘Being part of the larger Demcon group gives us much greater operational and financial strength to carry out challenging projects,’ says Heesink. ‘In the almost 30 years of its existence Demcon has acquired extensive experience in the development of high tech systems and products, and has advanced production and assembly facilities. This experience and these facilities are very useful to us. Under Demcon’s wings we have excellent growth prospects that will enable us to serve our clients with larger and more complex projects. In addition, we will continue to make use of UT’s exceptional research facilities, such as the High Pressure Lab, where we will continue to carry out part of our projects.’
Growth and greening
Demcon sees opportunities for growth and further greening in its acquisition of Suster, which has since been renamed Demcon Suster. ‘We complement each other and can significantly strengthen each other in the field of technology,’ says Jan Leideman, manager new business development. ‘Demon specializes in mechatronics and physics, while Suster specializes in chemistry. In projects I have often observed that physics and chemistry are fields of expertise that approach challenges in different ways. By combining knowledge from these areas of expertise, it becomes possible to obtain optimal results for the client. We already carry out many projects with social impact, for example relating to hydrogen and battery technology in the energy domain; well-developed competencies in chemistry are extremely valuable in this respect.’ Heesink adds: ‘For example, take the electrolyzers Demcon is currently developing. These devices use electricity to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Essentially, this is a chemical process. Today, there also is a trend towards using ammonia as an energy carrier. Hydrogen generated using an electrolyzer and nitrogen extracted from the atmosphere are combined into liquid ammonia, which can be stored relatively easily and transported in a fuel tank.
An example of a project that Demcon has been working on since 2016 is the conversion of organic waste into bio-kersone, a green fuel for the aviation sector. In the meantime, the client has decided to test the process developed by Demcon Suster on a larger scale in a pilot plant. Demcon Suster will construct and operate this pilot plant. The plant is too large to fit in Demcon’s future laboratory or near Twenty University, which is why it will be built at Technology Base, which also includes the innovative airport Twente Airport. If the pilot plant’s results are positive, a full-scale plant will be built at a location to be selected. Demcon Suster sees a strong market need for scaling up the smaller configurations used in laboratories. This requires larger flexible-use spaces where, within existing permits, long-term experiments can also be carried out on a pre-production scale. Technology Base would appear to be eminently suited for this purpose. The arrival of Demcon Suster provides this business campus with a positive boost for further development.
Demcon Suster continues to maintain a close relationship with its alma mater and, as stated earlier, will continue to make use of UT’s facilities. ‘In addition, we are going to set up a new, modern lab at the Demcon Technology Center in Enschede, a stone’s throw away from UT,’ says Heesink. ‘We can now engage Demcon colleagues for our research and the construction of test plants. Furthermore, by cooperating with other Demcon companies we can also expand the scope of our projects.’ This goes beyond substantive technical cooperation alone. Demcon already has much experience with acquisitions and minority interests in start-ups and growing companies, says CEO Dennis Schipper. ‘Aside from knowledge, we also provide facilities, accommodations, management support and/or capital as needed. This enables Demcon Suster to take on larger projects and take greater risks, while retaining its identity. This way we can strengthen and help each other where necessary and possible on the basis of joint entrepreneurship. We see many opportunities in sustainable process technology and the valorization of waste materials for the Demcon group as a whole.’
Demcon (900 employees) develops, produces and supplies technology and innovative products. The Demcon group has locations in Best, Delft, Enschede, Groningen, Maastricht (the Netherlands), Munster (Germany), Tokyo (Japan) and Singapore. The company was created as a result of the passion of its founders for combining creativity and technical skills focused on solving complex issues. These issues are of a technological and social nature and generally have a direct or indirect impact on people and their everyday lives. Whether this concerns medical systems, systems that monitor our security or sustainable solutions relating to themes such as water and energy, Demcon makes a contribution for current and future generations. In addition to developing technical solutions, Demcon also focuses its efforts on promoting entrepreneurship and investing in talent and education.