Developing a Responsible Circular Economy in the Netherlands

Marcel Xing-Kai Kempers
12 min readDec 23, 2020


The Case of Pyrolysis Technology


Figure 1: Discarded tires (source: black bear carbon, 2020)

Millions of discarded tires would have become landfill or worse, go directly to incineration (ETRMA, 2019). Today, tires are taken in by an innovative Dutch company, Black Bear Carbon, where they are transformed into carbon black through a thermochemical process called pyrolysis, used then to make newer tires and other products (Williams, 2013). Material recovery-use of waste tires increased from 8% in 1994 to 57% in 2017 (ETRMA, 2019). This is a prime example of the rise of the circular economy through pyrolysis.

Figure 2: Circular economy using pyrolysis on tires (source: black bear carbon, 2020)

Driven by socio-environmental pressures, emerging innovations in upcycling of waste into products, or waste valorisation, is a vision found within the agenda of most developed nations (Malinauskaite, Jouhara, & Spencer, 2017). Pyrolysis is the decomposition of materials under high temperatures in the absence of oxygen and is under continuous research and development or is already on the market for a particular waste stream (Chua, Bashir, & Tan, 2019). Common waste streams in the Netherlands (food waste, tires, plastics) that are converted into energy and products through pyrolysis techniques incorporate different stakeholder groups which presents a challenge when extrapolating top-level values of the innovation system, and can introduce potential value conflicts (Islam et al, 2010).

The main question addressed is whether pyrolysis technologies, under a unifying circular economy value system, is being developed responsibly in the Netherlands. Let’s also ask ourselves 3 things:

1. Does strategic niche management exist for emerging pyrolysis innovation?

2. Does circular economy govern the values of the innovation system?

3. Does policy intervene to resolve value conflicts and steer responsible innovation?

Innovation System

The Quadruple Helix (QH) model (Carayannis, Campbell 2009) is adopted as the framework to map out the innovation system (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3: Quadruple Helix Model Adapted by Fraunhofer (Fraunhofer, 2015)

To first map pyrolysis beside existing technical alternatives, the Ladder of Landsink (Figure 4) is used as a framework by the EU under the Waste Framework Directive to “evaluate technologies/processes that protect the environment alongside resource and energy consumption from most favorable to least favorable actions.” (Hansen, Christopher, & Verbuecheln, 2002). Based on recycling of materials and energy recovery, pyrolysis is ranked highly by institutions (Ganzevles, Potting, & Hanemaaijer, 2016), indicating strong political representation as a promising waste processing technology.

FIGURE 4: Quadruple Helix Model Adapted by Fraunhofer (Fraunhofer, 2015)

Pyrolysis technology is largely based on an Edisonian approach to innovation (Huber, Brown, 2017), and is therefore positionally unique and opportune to shift from an archaic innovation system to a strategic and networked one (Newell et al, 2020). The Pyrolyse Proeftuin (PP) is an innovation facility in Moerdijk dedicated to pyrolysis research and development. It currently hosts four pyrolysis companies (Waste4Me, Nettenergy, Charcotec, Patpert Teknow Systems) with similar technological readiness levels and motivations for development (Koudelková, Milichovský, 2015). Figure 6 presents a map of the innovation system of Waste4Me at PP, a company aiming to transform plastic waste into energy and oils.

Figure 6: Innovation systems map for pyrolysis technology (waste4me and pyrolyse proeftuin case study)

The deepening of academia-industry collaborations is also an avenue to attract public funding (Hillerbrand, Werker, 2019). The Center of Expertise Biobased Economy (CoE BBE), a research consortia consisting of academic experts of the Avans and HZ University of Applied Science, exchanges knowledge with Waste4Me while drawing in research funding as co-developers.

The PP’s 6 million euro grant (OPZuid Stimulus Program) from the European Regional Development Fund shows that subsidized pyrolysis demonstrations take precedence in the EU agenda. In short, the PP can be considered a ‘protected space’ to facilitate strategic niche management for emerging pyrolysis innovation in the Netherlands.

The Social Map

Applying the notion of social proximity (Lazzeretti, Capone, 2016), the more influential members of the system are the upstream and downstream commercial stakeholders — waste producers/logistics and pyrolysis product buyers. SUEZ is a logistics company that collects, separates and recycles waste together with innovation partners to ensure long-term profit (Verrips et al, 2019). The Port of Moerdjik supports Waste4Me by using derived bio-oils refined into transport fuel for ships, which accelerates the valorisation of plastic waste within this market niche.

The QH model emphasizes the fourth Helix: the media and culture-based public. “People have become better educated, more emancipated, and they have — thanks to social media — more capacity to express themselves towards the rest of society”. The presence of cultured-media endow the innovation system with democratic influence, which impacts innovation drivers on:

- Energy: Historically, public acceptance affects development of energy systems (Werker, Jolien, & Ligtvoet, 2017). Pyrolysis is considered (bio)energy technology and public opinion affects the support received from municipalities (Elaheh, 2011), such as that of Provincie Noord-Brabant towards the Proeftuin facility.

Figure 7: Typical Photo Of Turtle With Plastic Waste (source: Gis Edu, 2019)

- Waste: Figure 7’s image is not unfamiliar, the impact of plastic waste is easily accessed and understood by the public, which can be a structural driving factor for institutions to strengthen financial support for industrial symbiosis and waste processing pyrolysis (Baggio et al, 2007). According to a study by Wageningen University, plastic collection increased by 30% from 2014 to 2017 (Brouwer et al, 2019). This highlights that responsible disposal of plastic waste by the public is increasing (Maja, 2015), making it easier for companies to procure materials at a decreased cost and streamline innovation.

Sustainable products: Similarly for consumption behavior, people are now more aware of a product’s lifecycle and carbon footprint (Verrips et al, 2019). This increases the demand for sustainable products with proper certification, for instance Cradle2Cradle (figure 8) that is given to Black Bear Carbon’s products derived from pyrolysis which incentivizes the industry (Brouwer et al, 2019).

Cradle2cradle certification given to waste tire pyrolysis products

The Value Map

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment released a Government-wide Circular Economy policy program which highlights future agendas and goals (Ministry of IenM, 2016). The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report on circular economy, taking a European perspective on cross-value chain innovations that spans public and private sectors (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013).

Pyrolysis in a circular economy allow companies to decarbonize (reduce emissions) and dematerialize (reduce waste) commercial activities, which means pyrolysis innovation has a systemic property and occurs in different dimensions (Blomsma, Brennan, 2017); products/services, business models, and ecosystems (Talmar et al, 2018). Products refer to technology that inherently carry values (Correljéet et al, 2015). Business model innovation is about how a firm captures long-term commercial value (Chesbrough, 2010) and ecosystem innovation refers to how “loosely coupled” organizations interact to achieve a collective result (Jacobides, Cennamo, & Gawer, 2018).

Due to the dependency on stakeholder collaboration and complexity management in the supply chain, ecosystem innovation is key to achieve responsible pyrolysis development (Konietzko, Bocken, & Hultink, 2020). Values of the blue ocean strategy is clearly adopted by the PP, based on “the shared understanding between competitors that there is a healthy balance between supply of waste and demand for pyrolysis solutions” to allow for co-development (Chan, Mauborgne, 2005). It is evident that values toward dematerialization and participation into industrial symbiosis are by and large mutual, while economic growth and circular design possess varying underlying motivations between different actors highlighted below, the strong and the weak.

Values embedded in the technology

  1. Less Waste
  2. Less Emissions
  3. Inherent Circular Design

Values embedded in the institutional context

  1. Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  2. ‘Systems Thinking’ and Industrial Symbiosis (B2B reuse & recycling)
  3. Open Innovation and Co-development

Pyrolysis Tech: CharcoTec

Focus on slow pyrolysis, or what we all call carbonization

Waste logistics (e.g. SUEZ)

Business depends on waste streams and future business models

Sustainable profit from new waste processing technologies — like pyrolysis

Pyrolysis products buyers (e.g. Port of Moerdijk/Partners)

Interest in sustainable materials and products

Dependent on B2B contracts to ensure future products are sustainable

Co-development is key to ensure future supply due to stricter environmental regulations across the sectors

Dutch Government (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment)

Strong goals for waste management & ‘Conscious use’ of materials

Strong goals to reduce reliance on natural resources (i.e. natural gas)

Goals on ‘Smart Design’ (European Ecodesign Directive)

Economic growth and healthy employment rates

Pushing demand for circular products and services

Strong support for raw material entrepreneurs

General Public Consensus and (Social) Media

Strong public understanding of the global ‘waste problem’ threat and changes in consumption behavior

Strong public understanding of climate change, public acceptance still shapes energy projects but to a lesser extent for pyrolysis

General concern over health of the economy and relevant job opportunities for individuals

Some influence due to public acceptance of waste flow streams (for e.g. protesting towards illegal plastic waste dumping in oceans)

Interventions and Policies

Discrepancies arise when juxtaposing the innovation social map with circular economy ideals. Institutional interventions may serve to resolve this, by highlighting three policy actions below.

1. Incentives for experimentation and co-development: The Dutch government highly promotes co-development between partners to build a circular economy (Miandad et al, 2019). The Smart Regulation programme (or Ruimte in Regels) is in place to support circular initiatives in their development by providing incentives for collaborative efforts (Ministry of IenM, 2016). This resolves the conflict between pyrolysis developers and their product buyers by allowing new business models to cultivate whilst pyrolysis products are not completely cost-competitive with traditional ones just yet (Baggio et al, 2007).

2. Incentives for energy: Governmental perspectives has ramifications on the available public funding offered to pyrolysis as a bioenergy technology (Mohan, 2016). For research purposes, a senior policy advisor of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate was questioned on the future of such support, the conclusion being that subsidies for bio-based heat generation is being reduced, due to better alternatives like geothermal in the Netherlands (Anonymous, Interview). This is a looming barrier to innovation. In comparison, the UK offers a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which allows consumers to sell heat just like electricity to the grid, and a key success factor for a number of energy start-ups (Van de Kaa, Kamp, Rezaei, 2017).

3. Monitoring roadmap implementation: Accountability structures should be set in place to ensure technology actors continuously align with values for dematerialization and decarbonization, which means stringent monitoring on waste lifecycles and emissions. Avoided landfill and incineration benefits the environment, however, in practice, “increasing the circularity of one product may lead to less circularity in another” (Ganzevles, Potting , & Hanemaaijer, 2016). Hence, a state-appointed “ombudsman” (Pesch, 2008) is, in our case study, the CoE BBE who conducted a life cycle analysis (LCA) on Waste4Me’s plastic processing on behalf of the public stakeholders. This is a form of active responsibility and integral to ensure best practices according to the EU’s waste framework directive and should be replicated across industry (Malinauskaite, Jouhara, & Spencer, 2017).


An underlying notion is present: the shared values (and goals) toward an inclusive, circular economy can be a clear and strong unifying factor for emerging pyrolysis innovation. Using the PP as an example, this is largely facilitated by the government, the culture-based media and public and supporting commercial actors on technology developers. While discrepancies in proximity to values exist, institutional interventions have the opportunity to resolve them — through incentives and policy for co-development, energy demonstration projects and active responsibility, so that we can all achieve circular economy as a proud Dutch nation.

For for information about the writer and his work with pyrolysis: Head over to


Williams, Paul T. ‘Pyrolysis of Waste Tyres: A Review’. Waste Management 33, no. 8 (1 August 2013): 1714–28..

Ministry of IenM (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment) — Government-wide Programme for a Circular Economy). A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050 (2016). (IenM /BSK-2016/175734) Available at: tion (Accessed: 10 October 2020)

Chua, H. S., M. J. K. Bashir, K. T. Tan. (2019) ‘A Sustainable Pyrolysis Technology for the Treatment of Municipal Solid Waste in Malaysia’, 020016. Penang, Malaysia.

Malinauskaite, J., Jouhara, H., & Spencer, N. (2017). Waste prevention and technologies in the context of the EU Waste Framework Directive: Lost in translation? European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 26, 66–80.

Potting, J., Hekkert, M., Worrell, E., & Hanemaaijer, A. (2017). CIRCULAR ECONOMY: MEASURING INNOVATION IN THE PRODUCT CHAIN. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2544, 46. (Accessed: 5 October 2020)

Islam, M.R., Parveen M., Haniu H., and Islam S. (2010) ‘Innovation in Pyrolysis Technology for Management of Scrap Tire: A Solution of Energyand Environment’. International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, 89–96.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2013) Towards the Circular Economy for Food: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2020)

Hansen, Wenke, Maria Christopher, and Maic Verbuecheln. (2002) ‘EU Waste Policy and Challenges for Regional and Local Authorities’. Background Paper for the Seminar on Household Waste Management “Capacity Building on European Community’s Environmental Policy”, 19. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2020)

Carayannis, E.G., and Campbell D.F.J. (2009) ‘“Mode 3” and “Quadruple Helix”: Toward a 21st Century Fractal Innovation Ecosystem’. Inderscience Enterprises Ltd. Int. J. Technology Management.

Huber, G. W., and Brown, R.C. (2017): ‘Prospects and Challenges of Pyrolysis Technologies for Biomass Conversion’. Energy Technology 5, no. 1 :5–6.

Newell, S., Morton, J., Marabelli, M., & Galliers, R. (2020). Managing Digital Innovation: A knowledge perspectove. Red Globe Press.

Koudelková, Petra, and František Milichovský. ‘Successful Innovation by Motivation’. Verslas: Teorija Ir Praktika 16 (1 October 2015): 223–30.

Hillerbrand, R., and Werker C. (2019) ‘Values in University–Industry Collaborations: The Case of Academics Working at Universities of Technology’. Science and Engineering Ethics 25, no. 6: 1633–56.

Lazzeretti, L., & Capone, F. (2016). How proximity matters in innovation networks dynamics along the cluster evolution. A study of the high technology applied to cultural goods. Journal of Business Research, 69(12), 5855–5865.

Verrips, A., Hoogendoorn S., Hoekstra K.S, and Romijn G. (2019) ‘The Circular Economy of Plastics in the Netherlands’. In Environmental Sustainability and Education for Waste Management, edited by Winnie Wing Mui So, Cheuk Fai Chow, and John Chi Kin Lee, 43–56. Education for Sustainability. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Pesch, U. Werker, C (2020) ‘Technology Dynamics (MOT1412) Reader (2020–2021)

Elaheh, A. (2011) ‘Social Acceptance of Bioenergy in Europe’. IIIEE, Lund University, no. 153644100: 73.

Baggio, P., Baratieri M., Gasparella A., and Longo G.A. (2007) ‘Energy and Environmental Analysis of an Innovative System Based on Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Pyrolysis and Combined Cycle’. Applied Thermal Engineering 28, no. 2–3: 136.

Miandad, R., Rehan, M., Barakat, M. A., Aburiazaiza, A. S., Khan, H., Ismail, I. M. I., Dhavamani, J., et al. (2019). Catalytic Pyrolysis of Plastic Waste: Moving Toward Pyrolysis Based Biorefineries. Frontiers in Energy Research, 7. Frontiers. Retrieved October 25, 2020, from

Maja, R.S. (2015) ‘Plastic Waste — Global Environmental Problem’ 36: 34–37.

Brouwer, M., Caterina P., Eggo U. Thoden V.V, Kerstin K., Meester S.D, and Ragaert K. (2019) ‘The Impact of Collection Portfolio Expansion on Key Performance Indicators of the Dutch Recycling System for Post-Consumer Plastic Packaging Waste, a Comparison between 2014 and 2017’. Waste Management 100: 112–21.

Blomsma, F.; Brennan, G. (2017) The Emergence of Circular Economy: A New Framing Around Prolonging Resource Productivity. J. Ind. Ecol. 2017, 21.

Konietzko, J, Bocken N., and Hultink E.J. (2020) ‘A Tool to Analyze, Ideate and Develop Circular Innovation Ecosystems’. Sustainability 12, no. 1 (January 2020): 417.

Correljé, A. F., Cuppen, E., Dignum, M., Pesch, U., & Taebi, B. (2015). Responsible innovation in energy projects: Values in the design of technologies, institutions and stakeholder interactions. In Responsible Innovation 2 (pp. 183–200): Springer International Publishing.

Talmar, M.; Walrave, B.; Podoynitsyna, K.S.; Holmström, J.; Romme, A.G.L. (2018) Mapping, analyzing and designing innovation ecosystems: The Ecosystem Pie Model. Long Range Plan.

Chesbrough, H. (2010) Business model innovation: Opportunities and barriers. Long Range Plan, 43, 354–363.

Jacobides, M.G.; Cennamo, C.; Gawer, A. (2018) Towards a theory of ecosystems. Strategy Management. J., 39, 2255–2276.

Chan K.W, Mauborgne, R. (2005) Blue ocean strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.

Ganzevles J, Potting J and Hanemaaijer A. (2016). Evaluation Green Deals Circular Economy (background report). PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague.

Werker, C., Jolien U., and Ligtvoet A. (2017) ‘Networks of Entrepreneurs Driving the Triple Helix: Two Cases of the Dutch Energy System’. Triple Helix 4, no. 1: 4.

Mohan, S.R. (2016) ‘Strategy and Design of Innovation Policy Road Mapping for a Waste Biorefinery’. Bioresource Technology 215: 76–83.

Van de Kaa, G., Kamp, L., & Rezaei, J. (2017). Selection of biomass thermochemical conversion technology in the Netherlands: A best worst method approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 166, 32–39.

Langeveld, J.W.A., Meesters K. P.H., and Breure M.S. (2016) ‘THE BIOBASED ECONOMY AND THE BIOECONOMY IN THE NETHERLANDS (BIOMASS RESEARCH REPORT 1601)’. Biomass Research, Wageningen.

Pesch, U. (2008). Administrators and Accountability: The Plurality of Value Systems in the Public Domain. Public Integrity, 10(4), 335–343.



Marcel Xing-Kai Kempers

Co-founder @ Pyropower | Reef Support | Social and Climate Impact — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!