It’s a revolution in the world of plastics: plastic coming from food waste. To achieve it is an Italian company in the province of Bologna: Bio-On. The owners of the company, set-up in 2007, are Marco Astorri and Guy Cicognani, former entrepreneurs in the field of electronic components for ski passes. Where is the link? Seeing those little cards abandoned in the valley, never decomposing, Astorri wondered if they could melt, like snow in the sun.
Despite the lack of experience in the chemical and in the biotech industries, Astorri and Cicognani started the project of Bio-On. Bioplastics are nothing new, derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch. But bioplastics, like biofuel, have always been criticized for their use of resources and their low quality. Bio-On follows another path. It adopts a completely green approach, not using food resources, but food waste (about 90 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in Europe – agricultural food waste and fish discards not included. And a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally – around 1.3 billion tons per year, according to FAO). Its “aim is to work in the field of the modern biotechnologies applied to widely used materials, with the “intention to create 100% natural products/solutions based on renewable resources or agricultural processing waste materials”.
The solution arrived in the form of PHA, a polymer, which is synthesized by bacteria that eat, in a natural way, food waste. Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is a linear polyester naturally occurring as a result of bacterial fermentation of sugar. This family can bring together more than 100 differing monomers to produce materials whose properties vary very greatly.
The main product of Bio-On is MINERV-PHA, a high-performance PHA biopolymer, that is particularly suitable for injection and extrusion methods for the production of objects. It takes the place of highly pollutant materials such as PET, PP, PE, HDPE and LDPE.
Last year Bio-On chose to work with Techint Engineering & Construction to build plants for the production of PHAs bioplastic, 100% natural-biodegradable and made using waste materials from sugar beet and cane production. The technology developed over the last five years by Bio-On (with the by-products and collaboration of Co.Pro.B.) is now created worldwide on an industrial scale, with plants producing 10 thousand tons/year. The skills, experience and global presence of Techint E&C are thus teamed with the innovation of Bio-On, sole owner of the technology for producing PHAs from agricultural by-products, without the use of organic solvents.
“Our business model, based on production technology licensing and on the exclusive development of the various grades of PHAs biopolymer, is teamed with the skill of such a large global group as Techint E&C,” explains Astorri. “This way, we can make available to the entire world a revolutionary technology for the production of PHAs biopolymer, an extremely high-performance bioplastic that is fully biodegradable in soil and water”. It’s the Italian revolution in the world of plastics.