Friday, October 20th, 2017

Turning Thistles to Plastics: Italy Opens Innovative Green Chemistry Complex

A new “third generation biorefinery” starts production in Sardinia this week which will convert vegetable oils from thistle weeds into the base for a variety of future plastic household products. 

Officials on Monday inaugurated the first of the Matrìca green chemistry plants, a 50/50 joint venture between Versalis (Eni) and Novamont, a leading EU manufacturer of fully biodegradable bioplastics. The plan was born in 2011, when one of the region’s most polluting petrochemical plants was shut down and the decision was made to transform it into one of the most innovative green chemistry complexes in the world.  Production begins this week, using raw materials from vegetable renewable sources, specifically in a plant that will convert vegetable oils (from two types of thistles) into monomers and intermediates, the base products that will eventually be transformed into oils for the tire industry, as well as lubricants and plasticizers for polymers and cosmetic products.

According to Italy’s Environmental Minister Gian Luca Galletti, who cut the ribbon at the new plant alongside  Daniele Ferrari, Chairman, and Catia Bastioli, CEO of Novamont and Matrìca,  the three plants planned for the site represent a global investment of 180 million Euro, and will produce 70,000 tons of bio products a year, putting Italy “firmly in the forefront in Europe’s biochemistry sector.”

The products will form the base for a variety of bio plastics, lubricants and products for household and personal care, as well as rubber and plastics industry and food fragrances.

“The Environment can truly be a driver for our country’s recovery and the only development possible is development where the green economy is at the heart of every sector of production”, Galletti said.

“We have completed a cutting-edge project in record time, driven forward by a strong commitment to research and design of industrial facilities representing excellence in the global chemical industry,” said Daniele Ferrari, CEO Versalis (Eni) and Matrìca Chairman.

“This result represents a key step in a process that began more than 20 years ago with a stubborn group of researchers working in the bioplastics sector and which is leading to the creation here in Sardinia of the first third-generation integrated biorefinery and the conversion of other sites in Italy,” added Catia Bastioli, Managing Director of Novamont and Matrìca. .“This moment is the starting point of a challenge that I hope will see the local area as an experimental laboratory for a new development model that will harmoniously combine industry, agriculture, environment, technological innovation, culture, enhancing the immense wealth of human resources, beauty, technical qualities and biodiversity that this island and the whole Italy represent”.

Specifically, the Porto Torres plant uses wild and cultivated thistle, a common weed which grows throughout the year on poor Sardinian farmland where wheat is no longer profitable, as the main ingredient in bio lubricants, bio fillers and bio plastics. Once at full capacity, the plant (which once produced petroleum-based polymers), is expected to employ 680 people, many of whom were laid off when the Eni plant was shut down.

It is another bit of good news for the struggling Italian economy, which has been mired in a two year recession.  But there are a few concrete glimmers of hope . .  Italy’s industrial output rise in April was the biggest since October 2013 and the economy may expand 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014, according to a recent report from Istat. The Porto Torres complex is an important investment in the country’s future “green economy,” which environmental and industrial leaders alike are banking on to help kickstart Italy’s economic rehab.


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