Two Italian companies, Bio-on and Sadam Group, has begun working on a project to develop innovative industrial processes, at competitive cost and with low environmental impact, to produce levulinic acid, a key element of the sustainable chemical industry of the future.
To anticipate the growing demand and exploit a competitive advantage, Bio-on and Sadam Group have launched a shared project to develop innovative industrial processes to produce levulinic acid using sugar industry by-products as raw material. Thanks to the knowledge acquired by Bio-on laboratories in the last two years, a pilot plant will be built for research. Subsequent project development would involve the construction of a demo plant with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes of levulinic acid per year. This structure should be built at Sadam’s Tre Casali agro-industrial plant in San Quirico (Parma, Italy), which will also include an industrial plant, using Bio-on technology, to produce PHAs biopolymers from glycerol, a co-product of bio-diesel production. Sadam S.p.A. is a sub-holding in the food and agro-industrial sector entirely controlled by Gruppo Industriale Maccaferri di Bologna through the industrial holding company S.E.C.I., which also operates in environmental and mechanical engineering, construction, real estate, energy and tobacco.
The final goal of the project, which in the next 3 years can count on a budget of 6 million euro, is to demonstrate the possibility of creating a production process at competitive cost and with low environmental impact that can be replicated on a larger scale in a subsequent industrial and commercial phase. The project entitled “Industrial eco-sustainable production of levulinic acid from sugar industry by-products not intended for human food – PROECOLEV” has been approved by MISE (Italian Ministry of Economic Development) with a 2016 ministerial decree now in effect. The project has a duration of 36 months and has an estimated budget of 6 million euro backed by MISE from the Sustainable Growth fund, Sustainable industry tender 2015, with a blend of subsidized and non-recoverable credit. Sadam Group will encourage the creation of bio-refineries in Europe capable of converting crude, natural raw materials into renewable elements with high added value, within the circular economy and green economy to be promoted in the European Union.
“Levulinic acid is considered one of the 12 ‘building blocks’ of the green chemical industry of the future,” explains Marco Astorri, Chairman of Bio-on S.p.A. “Working on a new method of producing levulinic acid on an industrial scale over the coming months, as we announced in 2015, fills us with pride and enables us to consolidate our global leadership in the development of modern biochemistry”. “The project – continues Astorri – is also approved by MISE, which will support an investment, through financial subsidies within a budget of 6 million euro, that will determine the budgets needed for the future industrial realization.”
“We are pleased with this initial development stage conducted by Bio-on, Sadam Group – says Massimo Maccaferri, Chairman of Sadam – because this molecule is an extraordinary tool that can kick-start the re-launch of the Italian chemical industry, safeguarding employment and guaranteeing an investment in our future.”
The United States government considers levulinic acid to be one of the largest families of industrial derivatives of the future and it is deemed to be one of the 12 most promising bio-intermediates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. According to the most recent forecasts and based on various independent research, Bio-on estimates that market demand for levulinic acid will grow 150-200-fold over the next 7-8 years.
It is a natural compound made from biomass and the project envisages using sugar beet co-products as the raw material. It is a platform chemical product that can be used to produce other chemical substances or to replace the synthetic alternatives. The main end users of levulinic acid are the agricultural, pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors, but this natural molecule also helps create new ecological fuels, fertilizers and anti-parasitic products. It is also used in the biodegradable plastics sector, expanding its field of application, and it is an intermediate element for making high-performance plastics, drugs and many other new-concept “green” products.