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Novamont sees integration of technologies as the way forward in bioplastics

"We could learn something from the petroleum refineries," said Stefano Facco, of Novamont SpA, speaking at the 8th European Bioplastics conference "As an end user, around 4% of the refined crude is used by the chemical, plastics and rubber industry. However, this 4% generates a full 42% of the revenues." He went on: "Using biomass for chemicals and materials generates a far higher yield in terms of employment and added value than using it for bioenergy."

This is being demonstrated at Novamont, which takes what Facco called a 'holistic' approach to building a bioplastics chain. The Màtrica project in Sardinia, a 50/50 joint venture between Novamont and Italian petrochemical company Versalis, is a practical application of a vision that embraces backward integration into the biomonomers needed for Novamont to produce its Mater-Bi starch-based biopolyester, upstream integration of technologies and integration with local agriculture.

At the new third-generation biorefinery, seven plants are being built in three phases that will produce chemical intermediates such as monomers, additives for lubricants and elastomers, and biodegradable polymers obtained from renewable raw materials (vegetable oils and agricultural waste). The projected is targeted for completion in 2016.

The objective is to achieve the low-cost transformation of feedstock from renewable, non-food sources - which are compatible with the local area and are cultivated in outlying plots - into bio-based products. The organic waste deriving from the processing is then used to meet the energy requirement of the entire industrial process, rendering it fully self-sufficient.

Describing the project, Facco explained: "Sardinia is a very dry island, with more sheep than people.  The island has to import all its sheep feed.  The Matrìca plant is located in Porto Torres, in a rural area with numerous outlying plots that are suitable for the sustainable production of biomass from low-input, multi-year crops. The new biorefinery plants will provide jobs, stimulating the development of enterprise in the entire region."

He added: " Our crop is a cardoon, a kind of thistle. We take oil from the seed and feedstock for added-value products and energy from the biomass. Then, after crushing the seed and removing the fat, we turn it into sheep feed."

At the conference, Facco presented the biorefinery's main products which will become available early 2014: azalaic acid, which Novamont will use to produce agricultural film, and the intermediates for rubber additives and pelargonic acid, for use by Versalis.

Facco: "There are side streams out of the monomers that are opening up new opportunities for us. They can also be used to make bio-lubricants, for example, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. New activities are becoming possible."

"It's a model that serves local needs by recovering and reindustrializing decommissioned industrial sites. But it serves our needs as well and allows us to move from a product based economy to a system based economy, using a cascading approach in which resources are efficiently used and environmental risks are minimalized. Above all, the model can be exploited to offer new opportunities for development both in Italy and overseas."

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