Wednesday 29 August 2012

Novamont: From Mater-Bi Bags to Biorefineries

Stefano Facco, New Business Development Director, Novamont SpA (Italy) observed that the Italian population has proved willing to support action to protect the environment.  80% approved the ban on PE shopping bags and 67% would strongly disagree with any attempt to switch back.  100% of students were in favour of the ban.  80% of those surveyed understood that the new bags were made from plants and broke down quickly in the environment.  25% recognised the Novamont  “Mater-Bi” brand: excellent recognition for a B2B trade name. 
The future for bioplastics was therefore very positive, Mr Facco quoting a 2009 EPNOE/EBP report indicating a 2 million tonne potential being “immediately available” if sufficient products could be produced.  36% of the market was in shopping bags, 21% in produce bags, 15% in extrusion coating, 9% in films for food packs, 9% in cutlery, and 8% in agricultural uses.  Currently the production was below a million tonnes but this was expected to triple by 2020.

The case for integrating the wide and growing range of chemical and biotech processes in massive factories to produce new or existing chemicals and energy from locally-available biomass was growing.  These “3rd Generation” biorefineries would  be dedicated to chemical production using multiple raw materials, mainly non-food crops specifically grown to feed these refineries, but also waste from agriculture, forestry and food production and the biodegradable fractions of municipal solid waste.

Novamont had joined with Polimeri Europa/ENI to start such a 3G biorefinery by reindustrialising an old chemical site in Porto Torres – Sardinia.  This will use perennial low-input crops farmed on non-irrigated land along with non-food vegetable oil and (increasingly)  lignocellulosic wastes.  There will be 650 direct employees and significant increase in local employment in agriculture.  Novamont is also collaborating with Genomatica on a JV called Mater-Biotech to build the first industrial scale plant to make 1-4 butane diol from renewables. This will involve re-opening a fermentation plant in Veneto and ultimately making 20,000 tpy of 1-4 BDO.

(from a paper given at the Biopolymer World Conference, Venice, April 2012)

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