Adriano Alfani talks to Il Bioeconomista. An exclusive interview with the CEO of Versalis


“Another main pillar of our strategy is to drive sustainability through chemistry from renewable sources. We already operate on two technological platforms: Proesa® starting from solid biomasses and Matrìca from vegetable oils.” Adriano Alfani, CEO Versalis – the chemical division of Italian oil company ENI, talks to Il Bioeconomista.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

Ecological transition, green new deal. Industry is called to reduce its environmental impact more and more. How does Versalis come to this challenge? 

European Union has launched a number of initiatives that are guiding the industry in the development of a sustainable and low-emission model, setting ambitious targets such as GHG emissions cutting and plastics sustainability.

On one side these targets represent a challenge, but challenges are also a big opportunity for chemical industry to benefit from this model as a result of increased attention and demand of the customers across all sectors in more ​​sustainable products.

Versalis is moving fast in this direction, committed to play a key role in the transition towards a sustainable and low-emission production model, based on circularity principles in management of industrial processes and products along the entire life cycle and the use of renewable raw materials.

In our vision, plastic waste is a high-value resource to be enhanced and re-inserted into the production cycle and in this direction, we are focusing on the development of innovative technologies for the recycling of polymers – through mechanical and chemical recycling processes.

Regarding mechanical recycling, we already commercialize the Versalis Revive® line of products containing recycled plastic and we are constantly expanding the range of products through collaborations in several market segments.

In parallel, we are working on the development of a pyrolysis technology to chemically recycle mixed plastic waste – the Hoop® project: activities are underway for the construction of a first pilot plant. 

We are also pursuing an integrated approach to increase value chain sustainability using alternative feedstock such as bio-naphtha and – in the future – oil from chemical recycling.

Another main pillar of our strategy is to drive sustainability through chemistry from renewable sources. We already operate on two technological platforms: Proesa® starting from solid biomasses and Matrìca from vegetable oils. The most recent development is the commercialization of bio-ethanol based disinfectants under the Invix® brand and Sunpower bio-herbicide based on active ingredients from Matrìca’s platform.

Crescentino was one of the flagships of the Italian bioeconomy. Now you are producing Invix, a new hand and surface disinfectant made using bioethanol. But what are your plans for the plant in the coming years?

In 2020 Crescentino plant has been adapted to temporarily use corn glucose syrup as a raw material for the production of liquid hand disinfectant based on bio-ethanol, to meet the growing demand as a result of the health emergency across the nation.

Since the hand disinfectant (Invix®) line was launched, it has been further developed and now it includes two options, gel and liquid, and one product for surface disinfection, suitable for all washable surfaces.

This production will continue in line with the market demand, and commercialization will benefit of the opening of website and Amazon distribution channel.

Activities are ongoing to start 2G bio-ethanol productions by the end of the year. Lignocellulosic biomasses will be used for the production of bio-ethanol to be blended in gasoline in order to meet advanced bio-fuel penetration targets set by European regulation.

We are further developing the technology platform based on fermentation and physical-chemical treatments able to obtain renewable-based products for several applications.

Versalis set its transformation strategy towards a full differentiated and sustainable company. What role does industrial biotechnology play today in Versalis and what are your next steps in green chemistry?

Versalis, in line with Eni’s broader strategy for energy transition, has launched a transformation plan that aims for its activities and products to be increasingly diversified and sustainable. 

One of the strategic guidelines is related to the diversification of raw materials through renewable sources. Versalis can count on a dedicated ‘Biotech’ Business Unit and is very committed in R&D, through the Research Centers of Novara, Rivalta Scrivia (Piedmont) and Porto Torres (Sardinia, for the JV Matrìca), which main activities are focused on technology upgrade and product specialization for the development of a wide portfolio destined to several markets.

The Invix® disinfectant line has been the first step of Versalis in consumers’ market, followed by the launch of Sunpower®, a broad-spectrum herbicide based on pelargonic acid produced at Porto Torres, that controls annual and perennial weeds in urban and industrial areas by acting in synergy with solar radiation.

Sunpower® is authorized by the Ministry of Health as a phytosanitary product for professional use only and is biodegradable. It can be used in parks and public gardens and in tourist areas, avoiding the use of mechanical methods.

The product was developed in collaboration with AlphaBio Control, a research and development company specialised in the production of natural formulations for the protection of crops. Thanks to this strategic partnership, we are developing bio-based and biodegradable herbicides and biocides for the disinfection of surfaces, using Matrìca productions.

Leveraging our technological platforms, our strategy for next steps is to expand the portfolio and the range of applications of products from renewable sources either monomer or formulated products and consumers’ products or biopolymers. Disinfectants, biocides and bio-herbicides are a starting point: we will strengthen our market positioning in line with the principles of bioeconomy and sustainability.

What is your specific focus?

In particular, we are focusing to leverage on 2G sugar production technology (which is the key part of Proesa® that we consider the core for development) on the development of bio-fuels, total renewable polymers, intermediates for biopolymers and biochemicals. Our R&D efforts in this field have the ambition to use residual feedstock to realize high-performance and high-value products, reaching a higher level of sustainability. 

In JV Matrìca, we are developing the product portfolio to reach new applications and enter new markets, for example in bio-lubricant, cosmetics, bio-herbicides and bio-biocides sectors. 

In line with our strategy for the diversification of raw materials also in the traditional Versalis production chain, we obtained ISCC Plus certification to place on the market decarbonised and circular products under the brand Balance™. It is a new “bio attributed” and “bio-circular attributed” range made from bio-naphtha, and, in the future also “circular attributed” from recycled oil obtained from mixed plastic waste via pyrolysis technology (Hoop®).

Bio-naphtha will be made available through Versalis’ integration with Eni’s biorefineries in Venice Porto Marghera and Gela, guaranteeing the supply of sustainable raw materials from vegetable oils, exhausted food oils or other types of organic waste.

ISCC PLUS certification allows companies throughout the supply chain to demonstrate the sustainability of their products through full traceability and mass balance principles.

The ISCC PLUS certification process, launched at Versalis in 2020, will be completed with all Versalis plants by the end of the year, demonstrating our commitment for CO2 emissions reduction and the promotion of sustainable raw materials along all the value chain, through Eni’s platforms integration.

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