Projects: Italy's Novamont mulls second bio-BDO project

30 January 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Bioplastics producer launches $50m project with Genomatica, and considers a second plant

Italian bioplastics producer Novamont and US-based biotechnology company Genomatica have confirmed plans to build a joint venture bio-based butanediol (BDO) plant.

Catia Bastioli 

 "Our logic is to try and re-industrialize chemical sites" - Catia Bastioli, Novamont CEO

Located in Adria, Italy, the plant will have a capacity of about 20,000 tonne/year, with initial production expected in 2013.

Novamont CEO Catia Bastioli said Novamont will hold an 80% stake in the joint venture and will use the output as a feedstock for its biopolymers production.

In a joint statement, the companies said Novamont has committed to purchasing all the output, although Genomatica may purchase a portion to support further market development.

Under the agreement, Novamont will convert an existing facility in Adria into a bio-BDO plant using Genomatica's single-step BDO technology. Novamont is financing the plant conversion and will operate the plant. The plant will use glucose as feedstock, but in the future use cellulosic biomass, said Bastioli.

Novamont is also considering building a second BDO plant based on Genomatica technology. Bastioli said the project would be located in Porto Torres, Italy, where Novamont is developing a major biorefinery project in partnership with Italian energy and petrochemicals group Eni.

The capacity of the second BDO project is likely to be double that of the Adria plant, as Genomatica believes this would be the optimum size, she said.

Using the Genomatica process enables smaller-scale BDO plants than those using petroleum-based feedstocks. This makes it feasible to build more plants in different locations, close to the agricultural feedstocks, Bastioli noted. The Porto Torres BDO project would be integrated with dedicated local crops, she added.

A decision on whether to go ahead with the project is expected in 2013, and timing of the project will depend on demand growth for Novamont's Mater-Bi biopolymers. "It will be built in line with the growth of our bioplastics demand," Bastioli said. Demand for Novamont's biopolymers has been growing by 20-30%/year in recent years, and is expected to continue growing at these rates, she said.

Novamont has the capacity to produce about 120,000 tonnes/year of Mater-Bi biopolymers in Terni, Italy. It has the combined capacity to produce 70,000 tonnes/year of Origo-Bi polymers, which are used to produce the Mater-Bi grades, in Terni and a second site nearby.

Producing bio-BDO is part of Novamont's strategy to use more bio-based raw materials in its Mater-Bi biopolymers production. Genomatica's BDO "is the direct equivalent of petroleum-based BDO but with a smaller environmental footprint," said Bastioli.

Like the biorefinery joint venture with Eni, the bio-BDO investments are part of plans to revitalise Italy's chemicals industry and ­create jobs.

"Our logic is to try and re-industrialize chemical sites," Bastioli said.

Eni and Novamont launched their €500m ($648m) biorefinery project in May last year. The project will be located at Eni's Porto Torres site, which is operated by Eni subsidiaries Polimeri Europa and Syndial.

The project, named Matrica ("mother" in the local Gallurese dialect), involves building a "green center" that will produce monomers, lubricants, fillers, intermediates/additives for elastomers, and bioplastics.

Novamont will contribute its proprietary technologies for the design, building and operation of the facilities, while Eni will provide the site, the infrastructure and skilled labour.

Seven bio-based production units are planned for the Matrica project, and production is expected to begin within the next six years.

Eni also plans to build a €250m biomass-driven power station to supply electricity to the complex, which will be integrated with on-site biomass feedstock and local agricultural production.

Both the Matrica project and the Novamont/Genomatica collaborations point a way forward for some of the most challenged parts of the European chemical industry, which are operating in an increasingly competitive global market environment.

Some chemical production sites in Europe struggle to justify continued operation, but the closure of major production facilities remains politically unacceptable. The new plans for bio-based chemicals production in Italy provide a way forward towards a more sustainable future.

Additional reporting by Nigel Davis in London

By: Anna Jagger
+44 20 8652 3214

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