17 million euro grant awarded to bio-refinery project

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

A grant comprising 17 million euros has been awarded to First2run, a bio-refinery project which aims to demonstrate the technical, economic and environment advantages of extracting vegetable oils from low input oilseed cultures.

According to Italian chemical specialist, Novamont, who in partnership with four other companies – SIP (UK), SoliQz (The Netherlands), Biophil (Slovakia), Matrìca (Italy) – and a university (Alma Mater Studiorum - Bologna), is running the project: "This initiative demonstrates the European Union's ambition to move towards a circular economy, reduce waste and cut plastic carrier bag consumption."

Low input oilseed cultures, such as thistles, cultivated on arid and/or marginal land, are used to extract vegetable oils to be converted into bio-monomers (primarily pelargonic and azelaic acids) and esters for the formulation of bioproducts such as biolubricants, cosmetics, plasticisers and bio-plastics used to manufacture plastic carrier bags.

"By-products resulting from these manufacturing processes will be further enhanced to obtain animal feed, other value-added chemicals and energy from scraps in order to increase the sustainability of the value chain. Standardisation, certification and dissemination will be integral aspects of the project, as well as a study into the social impact of products deriving from renewable resources," said Catia Bastioli, CEO of Novamont before adding: "The bioeconomy and biorefineraties are a platform that can bring together different sectors: energy, chemistry, consumers, environmentalists and academia. On this common platform, we have to share a common project where we can put quality of life at the centre of the project."

The project, in which private partners are reported to have invested over 300 million euros, aims to see regeneration in industrial plants which are no longer deemed competitive or have already been decommissioned. The public/private Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking partnership plans to invest up to 3.7 billion euros, of which 975 million euros will be made available by the European Union between 2014–2020 period while BIC will contribute 2.7 billion euros. First2Run is one of the projects to be funded in the first stage of funding.

"The objective of the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking is to create new jobs, especially in rural areas, offering European citizens new, sustainable, locally made products. Bio-based industries will give European Union countries a competitive edge through re-industrialisation and sustainable growth, with the creation of new value added chains linking diverse sectors," said Barend Verachtert of Bio-Based Industries.

"We believe that through First2Run the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking can produce a decisive acceleration in the circular economy and circular bioeconomy, creating not only new knowledge but also opportunities for economic growth and employment in Europe," stated Novamont's CEO before adding: "Just 70,000 ha of corn and 6,000 ha of oleaginous non-food crops would be sufficient to meet Italy's total requirements for flexible packaging plastics, amounting to around 1.5 to two million tonnes.

"Considering that in Italy cultivatable land amounts to 15 million hectares it is obvious that bio-plastics are not going to affect the food chain and will actually strengthen it. Novamont and its bio-refinery model which is integrated in the local region have been, and still are, a simple yet tangible demonstration of the potential for small and medium sized companies based on innovation and research."

The CEO went on to say: "If we want to use local renewable raw materials we must – prudently – rethink our agricultural system which has now become one of the sectors which squanders the most energy."

Novamont operates a network of sites in Italy related to the bioplastics and biochemical sector. These include a research centre in Piemonte and a biorefinery in Sardinia.

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