Bio-on, a global leader in the high quality bioplastic sector, and Gruppo Hera, one of Italy’s largest multi-utility providers, reached an agreement to take 90% and 10% shares respectively (with the possibility of Hera increasing its share to 49.9%) in Lux-on, the new company founded by Bio-on aiming to revolutionise the production of PHAs biopolymers using CO2 captured from the atmosphere and producing energy without using fossil fuels.
The new technology developed by Bio-on envisages using carbon dioxide as a zero cost “raw material”, in addition to those already used to produce Bio-on bioplastic: sugar beet and sugar cane molasses, fruit and potato waste, carbohydrates, glycerol and waste frying oil. Using CO2 will also help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The laboratories and first plant of the new Lux-on project will be built by the end of 2019 close to the Bio-on Plants industrial facility in Castel San Pietro Terme (Bologna). It will be designed entirely by Bio-on technicians in collaboration with Hera, with carbon capture plants and a production facility using renewable solar energy. The development of the technology will be aided by the fact that many of the principles and equipment used in the standard technology can also be used in Lux-on’s new production systems. This is why the development and pre-industrial phase will be much faster than usual. The plant will occupy an area of 1,500 m2, 600 m2 of which is covered, and will have a flexible production capacity that is rapidly expandable.
The electric energy used in Lux-on’s innovative production process will be produced by photovoltaic systems which, aside from directly powering production, will also provide storable energy for nocturnal power (24/7 production). For energy storage, partnerships will be entered into with international experts in hydrogen (H) technology. Hydrogen, a non- polluting gas, will be produced from solar energy, stored and then converted to electric energy to power the plant when the solar panels are not running, i.e. at night or when light levels are poor.
“We are extremely pleased to work with HERA,” explained Bio-on S.p.A. Chairman and CEO Marco Astorri. “The great technological innovation used at Lux-on enables us to increase the industrial sustainability of a new production concept. We are particularly proud to realise humanity’s dream to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and produce innovative materials like our PHAs biopolymer. We are ready to face this new challenge, which will further extend our client base in the coming years, consolidating Italy’s global leadership in high quality biopolymer production.”
The agreement also envisages a second development line aimed at identifying sustainable by-products for biopolymer production. Renamed PHA-CEL by Hera, this consists in transforming cutting and pruning cellulose into simple sugars that can then be used in fermentation following an enzymatic treatment. This process is made possible by the treatment technology, developed by Gruppo Hera, which is also assessing how to apply it to biogas and biomethane production from cuttings and prunings.
All the PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) developed by Bio-on are made from renewable plant sources with no competition with food supply chains, and from CO2 in the coming years. They can replace a number of conventional polymers currently made with petrochemical processes using hydrocarbons; they guarantee the same thermo- mechanical properties as conventional plastics with the advantage of being completely eco-sustainable and 100% naturally biodegradable.
The agreement between the two companies has come out of a highly dynamic territory that represents the technological cutting edge in Italy to be exported around the world.
“For Gruppo Hera, which uses innovation and sustainability as the foundations of its multi-utility business,” explained Tomaso Tommasi di Vignano, Executive President of Gruppo Hera, “taking a share in the new company founded by Bio-on is the representation of a natural coming together of intentions and an alliance that we believe can be developed successfully beyond our territory and across various sectors. With the breadth and quality of our services, this agreement will give further, fundamental green credentials to a project like Lux-on, which aims to change the bioplastics world, not to mention the joint commitment to transform cuttings and prunings. Considering that Hera collects 200 thousand tons of cuttings and prunings every year, which can be transformed into bioplastic using our technology, this sector has huge growth potential.”