“The paradigm of the circular bioeconomy for Novamont means renerating territories, focusing on soil health and on the decarbonisation of the atmosphere”. To say it – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Giulia Gregori, Strategic Planning and Corporate Communications Manager at Novamont, the company based in Novara, Italy, which is a leader in the world market of bioplastics. Gregori talks about the circular bioeconomy in the frame of the EU Green Deal and the circular economy action plan and talks also about Grace, the BBI JU demo project focused on hemp and miscanthus.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Novamont is leading the way in the circular bioeconomy. What does this economic and social paradigm represent for your company?
The paradigm of the circular bioeconomy for Novamont means regenerating territories, focusing on soil health and on the decarbonisation of the atmosphere. Novamont’s circular bioeconomy model integrates chemistry and agriculture with the environment. It starts from the reindustrialisation of no longer competitive sites thanks to world’s first proprietary technologies,to transform them into integrated biorefineries. In this way, Novamont contributes to regenerate industrial and rural areas at risk of abandonment, with positive effects on employment and local economies, while preserving virgin land from soil consumption, and contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions through the energy efficiency of the plants and the exploitation of process byproducts. Another substantial element is the development of an integrated agricultural value chain starting from low-impact and low-input oleaginous drycrops, together with the development of processes and products starting from waste (organic waste, pulp, paper, wastewater, etc.). All this leads Novamont to the development of biodegradable products from renewable origins, such as bioplastics, bioherbicides, biolubricants, ingredients for cosmetics, designed not to pollute compost, soil, and water, closing the carbon cycle.
You are a partner of many BBI JU projects, including the demo project Grace. What is the goal of this project and what is your role?
The GRACE project demonstrates large-scale miscanthus and hemp production on land with low productivity, contaminated soil or which has been abandoned. The aim is to secure the supply of sustainable-produced raw materials for the growing European Bioeconomy. In the project, ten different demonstration cases are used to show how biomass cultivation can be linked to the near-industrial-scale production of various biobased products. The Bioeconomy project GRACE is made up of a consortium of 22 partners from both academia and industry and also includes SME’s, farmers and an industrial cluster. Novamont’s role is to implement and optimize the use of feedstocks coming from hemp and miscanthus (vegetable oil, second generation sugars, fibers) to design and produce innovative solutions with a lower environmental impact for agricultural applications. Bio-herbicides, mulch films and pots obtained using innovative technologies and feedstocks will be developed in two demo cases within the GRACE project.
What are the policies to be implemented in Europe to favor the development of the bioeconomy?
The bioeconomy represents a rapidly evolving sector, which can really contribute to the creation of a development model compatible with the protection of ecosystems, with the mitigation of climate change and people’s well-being, creating new value and jobs. To foster this sector we need to build a coherent legislative framework in line with the European strategies and policies to tackle the challenge of climate neutrality by 2050 and the increase of the target to reduce greenhouse gases by 55% by 2030. For instance, if on the one hand Europe pushes toward closing the carbon cycle, bringing back organic matter to soil, and therefore to the full recycling and reuse of waste process. Furthermore, it should be ensured that new sustainable products can find easilyaccess to the market. The development of a more coherent policy framework will allow public-private partnerships as the BBI JU to express their full potential.
As far as you’re concerned, what impact will covid19 have on sustainable development policies?
From an environmental point of view, we are witnessing continuously growing emissions, the loss of biodiversity, the exploitation of ecosystems, increasingly heavily impacted by anthropogenic action and climate change. The Covid-19 pandemic is only one of the crises, which made us touch our low resilience, and as reported by a 2020 IPBES study, pandemics will emerge more often unless there is a transformation in the global approach of those same human activities that have impacts on ecosystems. This concept is becoming increasingly clear to international communities, and not only the Green Deal, but also the Next Generation EU, are showing that sustainable development policies for Europe are the only possible choice.
What is your opinion regarding the European Green Deal, where the concept of bioeconomy is currently missing?
The “New Circular Economy Action Plan” is one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal, however it is still very focused on mechanical recycling on one side and litter on the other. Of course, there is the need to strengthen the concept of the carbon cycle, overcoming a silos approach, because there cannot be circularity without taking into account the bioeconomy in a systemic way. For example, compostable bioplastics should be seen not as simple bioproducts, but in connection to organic waste, as an opportunity to close the loop of the carbon cycle, bringing back carbon in soil and reducing plastic contamination of soils. In any case, the Next Generation EU will be an essential tool to build a strong and resilient circular bioeconomy, incorporating the Green Deal and taking into account all the related strategies such as the Bioeconomy Strategy, the Circular Economy Package, the Biodiversity Strategy, the future CAP and the Farm to Fork Strategy.