Feature: Italy launches advanced biofuels facility

By Marzia De Giuli

CRESCENTINO, Italy, (PNA/Xinhua) — An advanced plant for the production of second generation biofuels from plants not suitable for food consumption was inaugurated in northern Italy on Wednesday as the result of a 150-million-euro investment and five years of research.

The Crescentino bio-refinery was projected and built by Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Biochemtex, an engineering company of Italian family group Mossi Ghisolfi (one of the world’s leading producers of PET resin), American private equity firm Texas Pacific Group and Danish company Novozymes, a world leader in bio-innovation.

The plant has a footprint of 15 hectares in an agricultural area for biomass at limited costs in Piedmont, one of Italy’s most developed regions.

It is expected to produce 75 million liters a year of second generation bioethanol from non-food biomass like energy crops such as giant reed, miscanthus and switchgrass, or agricultural waste such as sugarcane, bagasse and straws.

The bio-refinery is entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy consumption and ensures 100 percent water recycling, CEO of Beta Renewables Guido Ghisolfi said at the opening ceremony held in the presence of Italian Economic Development Minister Flavio Zanonato, representatives from the European Commission, local authorities as well as hundreds of global stakeholders and professionals.

The project was also supported by Piedmont Region with a three-million-euro investment and by the European Commission with a seven-euro-investment plus another 28 million euros expected over the next five years, sources from the Mossi Ghisolfi group told Xinhua.

Ghisolfi said the “revolutionary” feature was the innovative technology PROESA developed by Beta Renewables.

Combined with the enzymes produced by Novozymes, PROESA makes use of sugars that are present in non-food biomass to produce biofuels that ensure a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions close to 90 percent of those generated by fossil fuels, better that the reduction achieved by first generation biofuels.

The CEO was confident that the second generation biofuel market has high potentials.

“The green economy is not a replacement, but means shifting from a society based only on fossil fuels to a society also based on biomass,” he stressed.

For example, the fact that every year Italian agriculture loses up to 100,000 hectares that could be easily used to produce non-food biomass shows space for further investment as well as the “bankability and replicability” of the project both in Italy and throughout the world, he noted.

Agreements have already been signed with international companies on the use of PROESA, based on which Brazil and the United States will build their first refineries of second generation bioethanol, CEO of Novozymes Peder Holk Nielsen said.

“This plant is the first commercial one with this technology, and eventually the world can actually produce more than half of all gasoline consumption by converting the biomass into fuels,” he highlighted.

Prices depend on the raw material, Nielsen noted, but if “the row materials are picked smarty, than this plant would be able to compete with gasoline.”

The CEO of Novozymes, which has two manufacturing plants as well as research and business development facilities in China, added that the model is workable in the Asian country.

“I hope China will play a role in developing the renewal fuels industry, and we will be ready to support it with our research activities in Beijing,” he said.

In his view, policy makers need to send clear signals to encourage the necessary investments in advanced biofuels.

“The best thing to do is have a requirement for blending ethanol into gasoline, which has worked very well in the U.S. and in Europe even though numbers are much smaller,” he told Xinhua.

Incentives for the collection of agricultural residues and investment support can also help move the world in terms of reducing greenhouse gasses, stimulating economies and providing energy security as “continued reliance on fossil fuels is not viable,” he said.