Exclusive interview with Catia Bastioli, Ceo of Novamont: “The Bioeconomy needs to start from local areas”

catia bastioli novamont“The Bioeconomy needs to start from local areas and act in synergy with ecosystems and biodiversity. In this respect the Italian case is a cutting edge demonstrative example ”. To say it is Catia Bastioli, Ceo of Novamont, the company of Novara, in Italy, world leader in the field of biodegradable products, thanks to the use of plant materials and renewable energy sources with low environmental impact. In this long exclusive interview, the entrepreneur of Umbrian origin, who, among other things, awarded the “2007 European Inventor of the year Award” for her patents for Mater-Bi the bioplastics commercialized by Novamont, talks about bioeconomy and green economy, the emerging cluster of green chemistry, but above all she gives us a vision and a strategy. “We need – tells us Bastioli – to encourage the creation of a bioeconomy not based on subsidies but based on cutting edge applications which respect stringent standards and which can contribute to lower pressure on the planet limited resources”.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

In February 2012 the European Commission launched its strategy on bioeconomy, calling to action the European countries. Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and others have their own national plans for the bioeconomy. Other countries, such as France, are working to have one. In Italy it does not seem on the agenda. How do you consider the response of our country in this regard?

There is no doubt that Italy would benefit from a dedicated strategy on bioeconomy. We have seen some very positive developments recently that are pointing to the right direction such as the creation of a Cluster on Green Chemistry which involves associations and research centres and universities on the production of added value products and which will play a key role in streamlining smart specialisation strategies in a coherent way, the launch of the States-General of the Green Economy by the Environment Minister with the aim of spurring green growth across the country. Some other important actions have also been taken by the Ministry of Economic Development through the agreement of a Memorandum of Understanding in support the actions developed by Matrìca (JV 50/50 between Novamont and Eni-Versalis) in Porto Torres.
The publication by the EU of a dedicated Strategy last February was a strong signal to member states still not active on it and we do hope that also through the help of the Cluster on Green Chemistry we could contribute to enable a national strategy in this respect.
Of course the aim is not only to have a strategy itself, that is some how the easier bit, the challenge is then to ensure that it is implemented and that a cross cutting cooperation amongst all the key ministries involved is taking place. Germany and the Netherlands proved that national strategies can be extremely important in favouring the growth of added value products locally and I am sure that Italy could take some useful inspiration from those best practices.

Which key points should contain the Italian Plan for the bioeconomy, from your point of view?

Land is a limited resource and it is key that lead sectors at high potential and that can better leverage on the local biodiversity are considered as a key priority within the broader debate of bioeconomy in Europe and in Italy .
The starting point for developing a national strategy should be a solid basis of demonstrative case studies which have proven to be viable and sustainable. Those case studies would then act as a model on which policies which are in synergy with local areas and specificities can be developed.
It would be essential that an Italian Strategy on bioeconomy would focus on added value products and cascading use of biomass. A good inspiration could be the strategy in place in the Netherlands where green chemicals are a core element driving the local bioeconomy.
Market pull measures aimed at leveraging the use of green public procurement by public administration and also of standards and labelling would also be a key element to be included. This would enable Italy to have an holistic strategy which would cover the all value chain from the agriculture to the market uptake ,and which takes into account the different agro economic condition and bioeconomy potential of each region.
We need to encourage the creation of a bioeconomy not based on subsidies but based on cutting edge applications which respect stringent standards and which can contribute to lower pressure on the planet limited resources.

Is there a special measure that you would like even to suggest to the European Commission?

The change of paradigm leading to a post petroleum and resource efficient society cannot be science or technology pushed. It needs to be market driven and sustainable from and environmental and social perspective. New knowledge and innovation are essential, but won’t win Europe new markets, will not give new high quality jobs in rural areas, growth and prosperity. Without a market, no new product or process can survive. Demand side policies are key to support the introduction of bio-based products and the implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Group on Biobased products of the Lead Market Initiative should be a priority needs to be implemented. A positive signal in this direction was the recent Communication on the Update Industrial Policy for Europe, where we can see that bio based products are considered a top priority, but more needs to be done.
Another key element at EU level would be the integration of cascading use of biomass in relevant legislation with the aim to leverage on the potential of added value products. Wisdom in the way we use renewable resources is key and we need to create a framework which favour the allocation of renewable resources to the highest value use.

Novamont is one of the major players in the bioeconomy in Italy, and a model – from different points of view – even in Europe. Help us to understand which was the intuition of Novamont and what Novamont does today exactly in Italy.

Novamont was founded in 1989 as a research centre, incubating innovation and research and development in the field of bioplastics. We were pioneer in creating a market for bioplastics from scratch, and transformed a research centre into a thriving profitable business, now recognised as a global market leader in the field of biodegradable materials . A lot of passion and dedication allowed us to develop cutting edge technologies and materials with low environmental input and high societal benefits. Novamont has posed strong focus on the key role of bio refineries integrated in the local areas. The aim is to act in synergy with local biodiversity and ecosystem through strong cooperation and interaction with all actors in the value chain such as farmers, local authorities, R&D centre and society.
Today Novamont in Italy is engaged in two important reconversion projects. The logic behind it is to act in areas which are being badly hit by the current financial crisis and where plants are inactive and human resources with high skills and know how are often not valorised and convert those plants in biorefineries where innovation and investments can unleash local growth. The bioeconomy becomes hence a powerful tool to enable regions to become competitive again.
In Adria (Veneto) we are converting a plant into a first of a kind flagship biorefinery which will be dedicated to the production of bio BDO in partnership with Genomatica.
In Porto Torres (Sardinia) with Eni Versalis we are currently working and investing 500 million euro on the conversion of a large petrolchemical sites in a third generation biorefineries with an integrated and local supply chain in close collaboration with farmers and research centres and universities.

How important is the relationship between industry and academia to promote the development of the bioeconomy in Italy?

Strong industry-science relationships play an increasing role in determining the economic payoffs of public and private investment in R&D, as well as a country’s attractiveness for venture capital and for highly qualified and mobile professionals. Public Private Partnership and cooperation are hence a key element in this respect as they allow cross fertilisation and exchange of best practices.
However when talking about the bioeconomy and how to foster its potential it is important to consider that the interaction with R&D and academia are one important element but that needs to be complemented with interaction with public authorities, farmers, waste management companies and civil society. Only with this systemic vision in mind we can aim at building a forward looking bioeconomy for us and future generations

What role plays in this context the emerging cluster of Green Chemistry?

The “Green Chemistry” Technology Cluster, in line with the European Union’s most recent orientations, has the specific objective of triggering the development of bio-based industries in Italy through a holistic approach to innovation, aimed at revitalising the national chemical sector through environmental, social and economic sustainability. To this end, the new platform intends to act as a sort of hub not only for the Italian players who already pursue a strategy in this respect, but also for other players who wish to take part for the first time, ensuring coherence between regional, national and European programmes.
The Cluster is therefore conceived as a pivotal instrument for contributing to define an Italian strategy on bieconomy and disseminating it at European level; it will orientate the innovation efforts of different actors towards common goals, with a view to maximising the positive effects at national level and leveraging on the ongoing investments.

In the light of your experience in Porto Torres with Matrìca, help us to define a new concept of industrial policy in the Third Millennium.

If we want to enable a real revolution when tacking industrial policy it is our mindset and approach that needs to change. We need a cultural revolution and we need to work together in synergy in order to enable our economies to work sustainably and enabling people to live better with less. This is a structural and behavioural change that we need to instill in society if we really want to preserve our planet for a better more sustainable future. I feel that what our President Umberto Colombo (scientist and technologist, former president of Novamont and ministry for University and Research under the Government led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, editor’s note) used to say is still a key message that should guide our development strategy “the challenge of our millennium is in the balance between the technical means that humanity possesses and the wisdom in how we will make use of them”.

The Italian version is published on http://www.affaritaliani.it/green

2 thoughts on “Exclusive interview with Catia Bastioli, Ceo of Novamont: “The Bioeconomy needs to start from local areas”

  1. charlesvanderhaegen 11 April 2013 / 2:51 pm

    This week I attended a Biorefinery event in Wageningen. A few weeks ago a Bioeconomy meeting at the European parliament…
    Einstein’s word came to mind: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”
    Doing the same thing with Bio-economy is believing you can develop it top down. Especially today, the World is global, interdependent, complex, with non linear feed-back loops… It is uncertain, undecideable, unpredictable. Top down strategies are insane. Time to let generativity, autopoiesis, emergence do its wonders, Time to go back to the original ideas of Adam Smith , based on moral principles where many actors interacting in human communities for the benefit of all.

    • Ralf 12 April 2013 / 9:27 am

      Thank you very much Charles pointing out to Adam Smith, and his intentions. Doing the new is not really easy, especially as outcome is somewhat unpredictable. However starting with small actions, and learning from it will open up new opportunities to bring Bioeconomy into being.

      Next action? What could it be? I will have talks with reps of the local Dresden Chamber of Commerce next week, and as bio tech is also a major field of research (not yet business application) here in the region, this could be a door opener to the future. Who else is having similar conversations in the political/ business arena?

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