Renewable Matter # 19 / December-January

A Winning Agreement

by Mario Bonaccorso

Focus on Finance

in partnership with Valori

 

BBI JU is a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-Based Industries Consortium. It has funded as much as 65 projects in the past 3 years, playing therefore a fundamental role in enhancing the development of European bioeconomy. BBI JU supports not only research and innovation projects, but it also creates pilot and demonstrating plants that are useful to test sustainability and competitiveness.

 

BBI JU is a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-Based Industries Consortium. It has funded as much as 65 projects in the past 3 years, playing therefore a fundamental role in enhancing the development of European bioeconomy. BBI JU supports not only research and innovation projects, but it also creates pilot and demonstrating plants that are useful to test sustainability and competitiveness.

Horizon 2020, Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking, European Investment Bank, European Structural Funds, European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), private banks and the so called Junker investment plan. There’s certainly no lack of ways of funding bioeconomy in Europe. If in the past there were not many ad-hoc dedicated funds, nowadays whoever is involved in bioeconomy innovation can choose from different sources. The other side of the coin is that the panorama is maybe too fragmented and the access process to funds is often long and complex. 

“Innovation needs funds, without which any vision becomes equivalent to a hallucination,” is a famous joke by some NASA scientists, useful to understand how the access to funds is crucial to any of the actors that are starting new plants, developing new bioproducts, building new production chains. From universities to small businesses up to big companies, everybody is looking for effective and reliable funds to bring their projects forward. 

Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is a legal entity funded in 2014 to manage the €3.7 billion public-private partnership on biobased industries, that in these years has played a fundamental role in funding important bioeconomy projects. The European Commission and the multisector industrial group gathered under the Bio-Based Industry Consortium have joint forces to support an emerging sector and develop bioeconomy through yearly Calls for new proposals, pursuing research and innovation projects and including experimental projects and “pilot” production plants. This represents a relatively new tool at the European level, that is now regarded as a model by sector leader countries like Canada.

As a whole from 2014 to 2016 BBI JU funded 65 projects, with 729 recipients in total (including multiple shareholdings). The countries with the highest number of financed projects in 2016 were Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Belgium.

Till not long ago most of research and development funded by Europe was located in other parts of the world. A real major disappointment for our old continent was the Bio-Amber case, when this French-American joint-venture decided to locate its commercial plant in Sarnia, Ontario. European Framework programs, and especially the new program Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), have somehow tried to reverse this trend by focusing on innovation. Their plan is to avoid limiting projects to the research or the pilot phase, developing instead demonstrative projects and creating small scale production plants that will then be used to test sustainability and competitiveness. Even the so called “flag projects,” that get specific funds for pilot production plants in Europe, are now integrated. This kind of funds are available for the innovative aspects of these plants, and not for the whole infrastructure. The shared objective at the European level consists of getting rid of the risks in an emerging sector and create the structural conditions to use available renewable resources, technologies and industrial know-how to their own advantage.

One of the best known “flag projects” is the First2Run in Sardinia, coordinated by Novamont and funded with €17 millions, whose objective is showing the technical, economic and environmental sustainability of a highly innovative biorefinery with an integrated production chain. This plant uses low input oleaginous crops (for example thistle) cultivated on dry or marginal land to extract vegetal oils that through chemical processes are converted in biomonomers (mainly pelargonic and azelaic acid) and in esters, to create bioproducts like biolubricants, cosmetics, plasticizers and bioplastic. The co-products of this process are upgraded for the production of animal feed and other value-added chemicals and energy in order to improve the sustainability of the value chain. Standardization, certification and dissemination are an integral part of the project, as well as the study of the social impacts of products coming from renewable sources. The project supports the developments of plants that are the first of their kind anywhere in the world, that have already been built and have received more than €300 million grants from private partners as initial investment.

Bioskoh is a pilot project coordinated by Biochemtex, and financed with €21 million. It has the ambition to initiate the first of a series of new biorefineries for the production of second generation bioethanol, using lignocellulosic biomass. The project will make use of a decommissioned petrochemical site in Slovakia to create an energy self-sufficient biorefinery in order to demonstrate that second generation bioethanol can be produced at a lower and more convenient cost, with good potential for further reducing costs in the current market conditions.

Talking about demo projects, one of the last projects financed by Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking is GRACE, coordinated by Hohenheim University (Germany). This project, whose name is an acronym for “GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries,” aims at exploring the potential of non-food industrial crops (miscanthus and hemp), as a biomass source for bioeconomy. Both miscanthus and hemp are relatively underexploited, but they offer an interesting business opportunity for farmers and industry. If they are cultivated on marginal, contaminated, unused or abandoned land, the impact on food safety can be minimised, and the potential of introducing pollutants in the food chain can be prevented. Some of the partners of project GRACE are big companies like Novamont and Indena, the British Terravesta and the green chemistry Italian Cluster Spring.

Other new demo projects that started on last 1st of June are Urbiofin, Embraced e Biomotive. The first is coordinated by the business company Industrias Mecanicas Alcudia, and it aims at developing an integrated innovative biorefinery for processing urban solid waste (MSW) into new bioproducts. BBI JU website states that “Each person in Europe generates an average of 500 kilograms of solid waste a year. Almost 50% of this is organic waste consisting of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, that can be used as raw materials to create precious products. Moreover, its conversion will reduce polluting effects and will contribute to a real transition to the circular economy.” Project Urbofin aims at demonstrating the tecno-economic profitability of converting the organic fraction of solid waste on a semi-industrial scale. It will allow developing chemical constituents, biopolymers or additives through urban biorefining.

The second project, Embraced, is coordinated by the Italian company Fater. It proposes the launch of a multi-function biorefinery to recycle the organic content of absorbent hygiene products. These are nappies, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene products and wet wipes, that are now considered a non-recyclable fraction of solid urban waste, and every year in Europe 8.5 million tonnes of it are incinerated or landfilled.

In an important industrial environment, Embraced will represent a model of integrated and replicable biorefinery, economically and ecologically sustainable, based on the upgrading of the cellulosic fraction of waste in order to produce chemical intermediates, polymers and fertilizers of organic origin. This is therefore a real circular bioeconomy project.

The third project, Biomotive, is coordinated by the Polish Selena Labs Spolka Z Ograniczona Odpowiedzialnoscia, and aims at developing biobased advanced fibres and polyurethane for the car industry. In a stage when car manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce fuel consumption, car weight has become very relevant. It has been estimated than a 10% reduction of a vehicle’s weight brings to a 5-7% reduction in fuel consumption. Therefore producers’ investments for the development of new materials are on the increase: 20% of a car is now made of plastic, and this percentage is bound to increase thanks to the sound and vibrations absorption characteristic of polymers. Project Biomotive financed by BBI JU aims at demonstrating the production of innovative and advanced biobased materials (thermoplastic polyurethanes, 2k thermosetting polyurethane foams and regenerated natural fibres) in their own industrial environments, specifically for the automotive industry. 

 

 

Bio-based Industries, www.bbi-europe.eu

Horizon 2020, ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020

First2Run, www.first2run.eu

Bioskoh, bioskoh.eu

Grace, www.bbi-europe.eu/projects/grace

Urbiofin, www.urbiofin.eu

Embraced, www.embraced.eu

Biomotive, biomotive.info

 

Top image: Icon: AlfredoCreates.com, Anniken & Andreas/the Noun Project