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UK-based Sonichem snaps £1.2M to build biorefinery plant that converts sawdust into renewable biochemicals

Sonichem team
Picture credits: Sonichem

Petrochemicals have been an essential part of numerous industries for more than 50 years, from construction to life sciences and cosmetics. However, this reliance comes at a heavy cost wherein the UK’s petrochemical industry alone contributes approximately 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

The sustainable bio-based chemicals produced through UK-based Sonichem’s innovative process are poised to replace toxic petrochemicals that are harmful to people and the environment, across various sectors such as materials, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. The bio-based chemicals not only protect people and the environment but also contribute to the decarbonisation of the chemical industry.

First-of-its-kind biorefinery plant

Now, the East Midlands-based startup has just secured £1.2 million in pre-Series A funding. The round includes a follow-on investment by ACF Investors (backed NumberEight and Reboxed). The latest investment will be used to accelerate the development of its technology, continue research, and IP generation as well as finalise the design and location of a first-of-its-kind commercial biorefinery plant in the North of the UK.

Sonichem biorefinery technology is an ultra-clean way to convert low-value woody biomass, such as sawdust into high-value green and renewable biochemicals.  Here TFN had the opportunity to interview Sonichem’s CEO Adrian Black, who elaborated on the company’s future plans.

How was the idea born?

Reportedly, only 55% of logs that enter a sawmill become usable construction timber, and the other 45% end up as low-value by-products such as sawdust. Led by CEO Adrian Black in 2007, Sonichem breaks down this feedstock through its novel patent process, combining chemistry and ultrasound technology into three main constituent natural bio-based chemicals: sugars, cellulose, and lignin. For every £1 of sawdust, Sonichem’s technology can create £8 worth of bio-based sustainable chemicals.

Commenting on the idea, Adrian said, “The founding sugar scientist, now retired, was inspired by seeing how waste from sugar cane processing was under-valued and often burned. He wanted to extract environmental and economic benefits from such woody biomass waste. Early active shareholders then evolved the concept into our current focus on the sawdust produced from timber operations, giving us a high volume feedstock available in the UK.”

Regarding diversity, he added, “36% of our team are from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds and 20% of the board identify as female.”

Ultrasound tech to produce biochemicals 

Sonichem uses ultrasound tech to break the chemical bonds in the feedstock to liberate the cellulose, sugars, and lignin fractions. The fractionated mixture is then processed through recovery units to separate the fractions into high-quality biochemical products.

The company’s green chemicals sequester carbon and can be used to create a wide range of products, packaging, and materials with a low environmental impact. Its technology optimises the use of the world’s natural resources at every step, reducing the collective reliance on fossil fuels and avoiding excess waste.


There are many other biorefinery technologies, though many focus on producing sugars for fuels (bio-ethanol and Sustainable Aviation Fuel) and use food-grade feedstocks.

Adrian said, “We differ from most by using low-value non-food feedstocks, such as sawdust, and also by using a patented process that uses forces generated by ultrasound to break down the biomass at lower temperatures and pressures than other processes typically use, yielding a low molecular weight lignin that is of high purity, with high reactivity and solubility that is attractive to the chemical industry as a green replacement for certain oil-derived chemicals.”

Adrian Black, CEO of Sonichem said: “At Sonichem, our mission is to make the chemical industry more sustainable. Now we’ve completed the first phase of our Pre-series A round, we’re looking to enter our next stage of commercial development as we look to scale our offerings and build towards finalising our Pre-series A round and raising our Series A to support the development of our biorefinery plant in the North of the UK. ACF’s investment is a continued vote of confidence in our mission and we’re excited to get going.”

Tim Mills, Managing Partner at ACF Investors, said: “The market for sustainable bio-based chemicals has evolved rapidly in the last few years and is forecast to grow to $26.7 billion by 2028.  Driving this growth is global demand to transition supply chains to robust and cost-viable sources of supply, which utilise clean technological solutions that reduce our reliance on non-sustainable hydrocarbon reserves. Sonichem’s technology forms an essential part of the global transition story and we are delighted to be a part of their remarkable journey.” 

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