“One of the great challenges is to use fewer resources by regenerating territories and taking care of biodiversity and soil health. Diversifying bio-based value chain is then a crucial point to meet the challenge of raw material shortages.” To say it – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Roberto Marangon, Senior Application Development Manager at Novamont, the Italian company which is one of the leading players in the world bioplastics’ market. With him we talk about innovation in the bioplastics sector and the next steps of the company headquartered in Novara.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Novamont is a company founded on innovation. But what does it mean today to innovate in the field of bioplastics?
Certainly, innovation is strongly focused on the development of materials and applications with increasing renewable content and higher technical and environmental performance. However, innovating in the bioplastics sector means innovating along the entire value chain. Indeed, our group continues to innovate so thatour plants are increasingly efficient and able to produce bioenergy and use residues and byproducts in a circular bioeconomy logic. Our research and innovation are also increasingly focused on the sustainable use of biomass through the valorization of marginal land not in competition with food production, and through the experimentation of unconventional dry crops such as cardoon.Moreover, our group is also very focused downstream, in establishing cooperation and partnerships able to bring added values to our materials, applications and business models.
Which are the challenges and opportunities of making products with biological resources?
One of the great challenges is to use fewer resources by regenerating territories and taking care of biodiversity and soil health. Diversifying bio-based value chain is then a crucial point to meet the challenge of raw material shortages. For this reason, the greatest innovation frontier for Novamont is developing alternative feedstock chains starting from agro-industrial byproducts and waste, and from the development of technologies and collection systems for the chemical and mechanical recycling of bioplastics. Moreover, for more than 10 years, Novamont conducts research into specific crops whose yield can be used for multiple products, and that can grow under dry conditions, contributing at the same time to restore soil fertility and local economy as well.
Food packaging is one of the most important fields of application for compostable bioplastics. Can you tell us your latest innovations in this field?
Certainly, compostability in food packaging should be the solution for all those packaging items that, at the end of their use, are still contaminated by some food, to valorize it in the organic stream and at the same time avoid pollution of the other waste streams. In addition, it can represent a viable solution for products that today cannot be effectively recycled due to their small size or multi-material composition. Moreover, food packaging items prone to end up in the organic waste stream, if made of compostable materials will mitigate the plastic contamination problem in this waste stream and reduce the leakage of microplastics in compost and soil. One of the most recent innovations in this field, is the first compostable high-barrier multi-material laminate for packaging, made of paper and Mater-Bi, developed by Novamont in collaboration with Saes Coated Films. The core of this innovation is a very specific Mater-Bi film that is treated with high barrier coatings by Saes. The laminate has been already adopted by Colussi Group in their Misura salty snacks, by IcamCioccolato in their Vanini chocolate tablets and, more recently, by DSM for their sticks for Micronutrient powders “MixMe”. A critical factor of success for these developments has been the creation of a focused and reliable value chains involving film makers (such as Ticinoplast), converters (such as Sacchital and Gualapack) and machine manufacturers (such as Ima and Universalpack). The laminate is under validation for other packaging applications.
And what are the next steps for Novamont in this area?
Next steps in packaging application include research and innovation on end-of-life alternatives. Indeed, for short lived consumption items, where re-use is not possible, in a well-functioning circular bioeconomy system, compostable packaging could follow two alternative recycling paths, either organic recycling through composting or material recycling, offering additional flexibility to the system, allowing higher value recovery and reducing the challenge of microplastics dispersion in the environment. As to the recycling process after the sorting step, Novamont is currently investigating alternative low energy options besides mechanical recycling that can be grouped under the general term of “chemical” recycling, although different from pyrolysis and similar high energy processes.