Novamont gets closer to 100 per cent renewable bioplastics

Biochemical company Novamont has today (30 September) taken a step closer to being able to produce bioplastics from 100 per cent renewable sources, with the opening of a facility to manufacture bio-based butanediol (BDO).

BDO is a chemical intermediate used in the production of plastics, elastic fibres and polyurethanes, which has a global market of 2 million tonnes per annum. Until now, it has only been manufactured from fossil fuel sources, but the Italian company’s ‘world-first’ industrial-scale fermentation facility will see 30,000 tonnes of the substance derived from 100,000 tonnes of glucose syrup, made initially from corn and rice crops.

The facility has been developed in partnership with California-based bioengineering firm Geomatica, which has established a technique for genetically engineering E. coli bacteria to convert sugar into 1,4-butandiol.

The control room at Novamont's new bio-butanediol plant
According to Novamont, the move to bio-BDO will increase the renewable content of its MaterBi compostable bioplastics line from 31 per cent to 64 per cent renewable content, with the hope that in the future the material can be made from 100 per cent renewable sources.

The company’s new plant in the Veneto region of Italy has seen a €108-million investment in the regeneration of a former lysine-producing factory, which was abandoned in 2006. It will provide bio-BDO to other Novamont facilities around Italy, with the expectation that, once the facility reaches full capacity, the company will use 80 per cent of the chemical for its MaterBi line, with 20 per cent being available for other companies.

Speaking ahead of the plant’s opening, Novamont CEO Catia Bastioli also stressed that the new facility will allow the company “to decarbonise in a significant way”. Indeed, the company says that the move away from fossil fuel based BDO will result in ‘cradle to gate’ CO2 emission savings of 56 per cent for its fourth-generation MaterBi line. It adds that the carbon impact of the material is 60 per cent lower than comparable biodegradable products.

‘A formidable platform for biotechnologies’

Speaking at the Reconnecting Economy and Society Through Innovation conference ahead of the plant’s inauguration, Bastioli called for a systemic approach from national and international governments as well as businesses to enhancing the bioeconomy.

She commented: “Mater-Biotech is just one facet of a system of world leader, interconnected plants to be seen as a formidable accelerator, a way of multiplying opportunities in the bioplastics and chemicals fields for the producers of raw materials, for the producers of finished products, for new entrepreneurial initiatives for the creation of jobs, and for those who are concerned about planning a future with greater environmental and social sustainability.

“Mater-Biotech, together with the Novamont research centres in Piana di Monte Verna and Novara, represents a formidable platform for industrial biotechnologies from basic research to flagship plants, a major opportunity to create competitive edge in partnership with other entities in the academic and industrial sectors.”

Need for a ‘new industrial model’

Simona Bonafè, speaking at the Reconnecting Economy and Society Through Innovation conference
Echoing Bastioli’s words, Simona Bonafè, Rapporteur for the EU’s Circular Economy Package, used her speech at the conference to make an impassioned defense of the circular economy, saying: “I am especially delighted to be here because this production plant focuses on what we are trying to achieve in Europe. In Europe, we’re focusing excessively on some issues, such as GDP and immigration… but thank God we also deal with the circular economy.”

Adding that the move to viewing waste as an asset rather than a liability “requires a paradigm shift”, the MEP called for all actors to play their parts in bringing about a new industrial model. She said: “If this [Novamont bioengineering plant] is just a one-off example, it is all very well and good, but it is not enough. What we need to do is mainstream it… and in order to do that, we need an approach that involves all players – industry, consumers and institutions. [Government] institutions have a key role to play in making sure the legislative framework is solid, stable and clear for investors.”

More information about the plant is available on the Novamont website.