Matrìca flagship plant welcomes international stakeholders

Following on from the Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference in Turin, Matrìca – the joint venture between petrochemical company Versalis and bioplastics company Novamont – has hosted an international open day at its flagship plant in Porto Torres, Sardinia (pictured below).

Catia Bastioli, CEO of Matrìca and Novamont
Catia Bastioli, CEO of Matrìca and Novamont
Hosted by Daniele Ferrari, Chairman of Versalis, Catia Bastioli, CEO of Matrìca and Novamont (pictured, right), and Barend Verachtert, Deputy Head of Biotechnologies at the European Commission (EC), on Friday (10 October), the event gave ‘a bird’s eye view over the pioneering industrial model represented by the project, its fundamentals of sustainability and integration across the board, R&D activities and its commercial potential’.

The ongoing project involves the conversion of a petrochemical plant in Porto Torres into an integrated third-generation biorefinery that will use agricultural raw materials and vegetable crops to produce a range of chemical products through ‘innovative and low-impact processes’. It is anticipated that products from the plant will include bases for biolubricants, plasticisers for polymers, palm oil-free components for cosmetics, and animal feed, in addition to thistle-based bioplastics.

Thistle-based biopolymers

Matrìca plantOne of the plant’s main activities will see oil from thistles blended with other sources, including, potentially, olive oil residue and used cooking oils, to form the basis of third-generation Mater-Bi biopolymers.

Thistles, which will account for roughly 50 per cent of the feedstock, are considered ideal by Matrìca, as they can be grown on “low-value, unproductive land” (there are 70,000 hectares (roughly 173,000 acres) of abandoned land in the area, according to the company) and are easily grown in Sardinia’s water-scarce conditions. After extracting oil from the seeds, the remaining material can be used by local farmers as animal feed, while the biomass can be used to fuel the plant itself.

The initial phase of the project has seen thistles cultivated on 400 hectares (988 acres) of land by 40 local farmers, while the final industrial process will require around 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) to grow the thistle fraction of the feedstock.

Matrìca has already seen investment of €180 million (£142 million) and the creation of a research centre and seven pilot plants, as well as a full-scale biomonomer plant, which opened in June 2014.

Over the next few weeks, two more plants on the 27-hectare (67-acre) site – a polymers and rubbers additive plant and an esterification cycle facility – will also come on stream, and it is anticipated that “the entire integrated production chain” will be completed by 2016.

‘From sectors to system, from concept to reality’

Welcoming visitors to the Porto Torres plant, Novamont’s Bastioli said that the event showed that the aims of the Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference – which had the tagline ‘From sectors to system, from concept to reality’ – are achievable.

Highlighting the need for a “change of mindset” and a “introducing business into a holistic vision of society”, Bastioli said: “The conference confirmed that moving ‘from sectors to system’ entails a holistic, interconnected and interdependent approach, creating a solid network between industry, agriculture, environment, education, research and finance. It requires building bridges between the different societal challenges and sectors and implementing coordinated policies. It’s now time for the bioeconomy to enter into European, national and regional strategic policy agendas.”

Adding his welcome to the proceedings, the EC’s Verachtert said that Brussels in general, as well as the EC’s president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, is “very aware and very dedicated to the bioeconomy” and that the EC wants to create the framework conditions to make it a reality. Highlighting several points in Juncker’s proposed agenda that address the bioeconomy, Verachtert said the EC hopes it will achieve aims in Europe including: boosting jobs, growth and investment; ensuring energy security; adding to climate change policy; and strengthening the industrial base, which Juncker wants to account for 20 per cent of the economy by 2020.

Stressing the need for the bioeconomy to be addressed by local, regional and national strategies as well as at the European level, Verachtert said: “We need to bring the industry to where the biomass is and not the other way around”, concluding: “This is the best possible example [of the bio-based economy] we could dream of.”

Read more about Matrìca or the Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference.

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