Creating new bio-based supply chains was the topic of a two-day European Commission (EC) workshop held in Sardinia this week (27 – 28 May).
Over 100 delegates from across Europe, including farmers, forest holders, representatives of cooperatives, national and regional public authorities, advisors and representatives from different industry sectors, were invited to the two-day workshop, entitled ‘Building New Biomass Supply Chains for the Bio-Based Economy’.
The event was part of the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI), one of five EIPs launched by the EC to promote the modernisation and increased innovation of various sectors.
The workshop’s overall objective was to foster co-operation between agriculture and forestry and industry to create a continuous chain, and guarantee a steady and reliable supply, of renewable raw materials for the industry without compromising sustainability, whilst ensuring farmers and landowners are fairly treated.
Specifically, the workshop hoped to:
- engage relevant actors including farmers, forest holders, cooperatives, industries, public authorities, advisors and innovation support services;
- identify and address technical, economic, regulatory and social barriers for the setting up of new biomass supply chains; and
- ensure sustainability of the biomass supply chain.
- Matrìca used as an example
The first day of the workshop included a tour of the Matrìca plant in Porto Torres, Sardinia, and two farms that supply and benefit from the work done at the pilot plant.
The biotechnology project, a 50:50 joint venture between Novamont and Versalis (Eni) that is currently still in its pilot stage, was being used as an example of a new biomass supply chain.
The Matrìca project is redeveloping a large, defunct petrochemical site owned by Eni, the multinational oil and gas company part-owned by the Italian government, in the north of Sardinia.
Since the project began in 2011, a research centre, three industrial plants and seven pilot plants have been established, at a cost of €230 million (£165 million), experimenting with new technologies and processes to create biomaterials.
Facilities currently in use are a bio monomers plant, a polymers and rubber additives plant and an esters plant. These produce products such as azelaic acid, glycerine, pelargonic acids and plasticisers both for sale to market and for use in other Matrìca projects.
The plants reportedly emply low-impact processes that use water, heat and pressure rather than chemical catalysts and aim maximise resource use.
Novamont states that much of the feedstock used comes from nearby thistle fields, which are grown by local farmers on land that is said to be unsuitable for any other crop. Seeds from the thistles are pressed to obtain oil, which fuels the biorefinery, with the offcut meal used as a source of protein and antioxidant in animal feed on farms.
Matrìca currently employs 120 and Novamont say that when the project is completely finished in 2017 it will employ around 450 staff, including local farmers and workers.