Bio-on/Sadam collaborate for low-cost production of levulinic acid


Italy’s Bio-On and Sadam Group are teaming up to work on a project to develop innovative industrial processes, at competitive cost and with low environmental impact, to produce levulinic acid. Bio-on and Sadam Group will work together in the next 3 years to build a demo plant with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes of levulinic acid/year. Co-products from the sugar industry will be used as raw materials.

Levulinic acid is one of the key elements of the sustainable chemical industry of the future. It is used mainly in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, but also to make bioplastics and biofuels. Volumes produced today are insufficient and market demand will explode in the coming years.

The US government considers levulinic acid to be one of the largest families of industrial derivatives of the future and it is deemed to be one of the 12 most promising bio-intermediates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

According to the most recent forecasts and based on various independent research, Bio-On estimates that market demand for levulinic acid will grow 150-200-fold over the next 7-8 years.

It is a natural compound made from biomass and the project envisages using sugar beet co-products as the raw material. It is a platform chemical product that can be used to produce other chemical substances or to replace the synthetic alternatives.

To anticipate the growing demand and exploit a competitive advantage, Bio-on and Sadam Group have launched a shared project to develop innovative industrial processes to produce levulinic acid using sugar industry by-products as raw material. Particular attention will be paid to economic and ecological aspects: current global production of levulinic acid comes from highly polluting plants, with an unacceptable environmental impact for European standards and with vast production costs, resulting in high market prices.

For this reason, and thanks to the knowledge acquired by Bio-On laboratories in the last two years, a pilot plant will be built for research.

Subsequent project development would involve the construction of a demo plant at Sadam's Tre Casali agro-industrial plant in San Quirico (Parma), which will also include an industrial plant, using Bio-On technology, to produce PHAs biopolymers from glycerol, a co-product of bio-diesel production.

The final goal of the project, which in the next 3 years can count on a budget of EUR6 million, is to demonstrate the possibility of creating a production process at competitive cost and with low environmental impact that can be replicated on a larger scale in a subsequent industrial and commercial phase.

The project titled "Industrial eco-sustainable production of levulinic acid from sugar industry by-products not intended for human food - PROECOLEV" has been approved by MISE (Italian Ministry of Economic Development) with a 2016 ministerial decree now in effect. The project has a duration of 36 months and has an estimated budget of EUR6 million backed by MISE from the Sustainable Growth fund, Sustainable industry tender 2015, with a blend of subsidised and non-recoverable credit.

The technology developed by Bio-on/Sadam Group will encourage the creation of bio-refineries in Europe capable of converting crude, natural raw materials into renewable elements with high added value, within the circular economy and green economy to be promoted in the European Union.

Bio-On has developed an exclusive process for the production of a family of polymers called PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) from agricultural waste (including molasses and sugar cane and sugar beet syrups). The bioplastic produced in this way is able to replace the main families of traditional plastics in terms of performance, thermo-mechanical properties and versatility.

Bio-On PHAs is a bioplastic that can be classified as 100% natural and completely biodegradable: this has been certified by Vincotte and by USDA (US Department of Agriculture).


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