In October 2014 Matrìca hosted an international open day in Porto Torres (Sardinia) to present its green chemistry plant to European stakeholders. Catia Bastioli, CEO of Novamont and Matrìca and Daniele Ferrari, CEO of Versalis and chairman of Matrìca talk about the project and the importance of building bridges with institutions, local government and farmers in order to be successful and promote the circular economy. Alessandra Lacaita reports.
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The joint venture
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Born in June 2011 as a 50/50 joint venture between Novamont and Versalis (ENI), Matrìca managed the successful project of the reconversion of the petrochemical plant of Porto Torres (Sardinia) into a green chemistry plant. Leveraging Novamont’s knowledge in biotech and green chemistry and Versalis’ engineering know how for the industrialisation process, Matrìca identified local sustainable production of oleaginous products crops, created a research centre and started its production of bio-based products.
Catia Bastioli explains that Matrìca continues on the line of the Novamont’s research. She states: “Our main objective at the beginning was to use low impact crops available in the local areas in order to respect biodiversity, to use marginal areas without wasting large volumes of water, to reuse deindustrialised sites and integrate a range of technologies into the bioplastics chain. In the bioeconomy we have to think not only about bio-based products but about systems and about territorial regeneration and so the way a product can face societal challenge.”
“In the chemical industry,” Daniele Ferrari emphasises, “we have always thought about energy platforms, alternative energies, sustainability, an intelligent market and bio-based chemistry, which are the European mega-trends for the bioeconomy. Today in Europe there is a need for infrastructures and political support to face challenges which can unlock the potential of green chemistry. Moreover, in order to be successful in the green chemical industry we have to think about three main business growth accelerators: chemical industry, crop science and biotech, and the way we can exploit these.”
According to Mr Ferrari, as a joint venture Matrìca possesses these points of strength and it has the support of the local Institutions and the local Goverment, which on 26th May 2011 signed the ‘Memorandum of understanding for Green Chemistry in Porto Torres’.
Plants and production
Matrìca has globally invested 180 million Euro in its project. In 2012 it opened its Research Centre in Porto Torres consisting of an analytical laboratory and seven pilot plants covering a total area of 35,000 square metres.
In addition, Matrìca has three big plants with innovative technologies for its production. The Bio-monomers plant represents the most important part of the project, as it produces intermediates such as azelaic and pelargonic acid which are not produced in Europe at all. The Azelaic Acid is the monomer of bioplastics and the monomer for the synthesis of some polymers and it serves for the production of plasticisers and lubricants and for pharma-cosmetic formulations. Pelargonic acid is a raw material for ester production in applications such as bio-lubricants, cosmetics, personal care and food fragrances.
The second plant is specialises in Rubber and Additives, and produces plasticisers and oil extenders for rubber. The third plant is dedicated to esterification, that is, production of esters for different applications.
“All these products can contribute positively to the environment,” Catia Bastioli explains. “Polymeric plasticisers are a replacement for phtalates; bio lubricants reduce the consumption of lubricants, which disperse oil in water and soil; thistle oil replaces palm oil, with less deforestation.”
Matrìca’s main crops for the production of bioplastic is the thistle, with a total of 400 hectares on which 40 farmers work.
“In the bioeconomy it is important to establish a relationship between industry and agriculture and this is what Matrìca did, through the joint venture between Novamont and Versalis,” Ms Bastioli asserts. “Matrìca is the result of a new concept: from a product based company it becomes a system based company as it tries to integrate the biorefinery plant into the local area. Matrìca is in fact a green plant which produces chemicals and bioplastics from different plants, in order to respect a different biosystem. It uses low impact technologies and plants as well as marginal lands and de-industrialised sites.”
She also explains that in the creation of a start-up it is really important the upstreaming integration, as it requires research and financial support, engineering activities and connection with institutions and farmers: “A project like this cannot be done alone but with lots of partnerships. It is important not to build cathedrals in the desert but to create connections with the local area in order to create a specialised chain which enables crops to survive in an environment like the northern part of Sardinia. Matrìca creates these connections.”
“I think Catia and I can claim a masters degree in Institutional Relationships after this experience,” Mr Ferrari jokes. “I believe we have spoken with all kinds of institution: we started locally, involved the government, university, research centres and trade unions. We spoke a lot about the employees, who are the most important factor for a successful realisation.” Today Matrìca employs around 120 employees (rising to 145 by the end of 2014) but, for its first project installations it had 400 people working on the construction of the site, with peaks of 700 per day. “We always put safety at first, from the beginning to the last. The major achievement was to deliver this project with no accidents.”
Matrìca is now working at six different sites in Italy producing new technologies for the bioplastics chain.