Authors: Alberto Fragapane, Daniele Turati, Pieter Ravaglia
The development of innovative products from bio-based feedstocks can be one of the main contributions of the bioeconomy to sustainable development due to their carbon being biogenic («bio-based»), which means a reduction in oil dependence. Nonetheless, this contribution can be effective only through the construction of integrated agro-industrial value chains based on the sustainable use of biomass, promoting regional biodiversity.
Novamont is working for years towards a sustainable development model that is rooted in local areas and has built a demo platform of circular bioeconomy. No deforested or natural virgin soils are exploited for the production of renewable raw materials, where cultivation takes place on traditional farms and in agricultural soils for decades. Territorial regeneration means having a positive impact, returning value to communities, not just through economic but also social and environmental development, creating jobs, promoting multidisciplinary projects in the field, revitalising less-developed marginal areas and transforming uncompetitive or abandoned industrial and research sites. The construction of integrated industrial and agricultural value chains is one of the central elements of the model to promote the sustainable use of biomass so that the model for bioplastics production is successful and sustainable from all perspectives.
As a matter of fact, renewable raw materials do not represent the solution to all the problems of pollution and to declining oil supply: agricultural crops are not all alike and even the same crops can have a completely different impact depending on the geographic area where they are grown. It is therefore important to promote regional biodiversity by multiplying the opportunities coming from the study of different plant raw materials and local waste products, minimising transportation and maximising the creation of knowledge circuits and multidisciplinary projects with the various local stakeholders (universities, research institutes, high schools, voluntary associations, the agricultural sector, institutions and small and medium-sized companies).
For this vision, it is crucial to promote value-chain projects targeted at various areas based on their specific characteristics, starting with experimentation of unconventional dryland crops with low environmental impact and reduced water consumption along with research and innovation to transform waste and by-products into new applications. To achieve these goals, for many years Novamont collaborated with the academic world and with leading Italian and international research institutes to identify and study oleaginous dryland crops (e.g. cardoon) with potential industrial applications, which can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for traditional crops. FRONTSH1P is one of the most ambitious and complete projects in this domain and aims to transfer the experience developed by Novamont technicians to other regions.
These projects aim to:
- Create new production and income opportunities for farmers. The agreements signed with farmers’ associations, especially for areas of the country characterised by the presence of marginal lands at risk of abandonment or where crops are being changed, avoid any competition with food crops.
- Reduce the environmental impact on the soil and water by using innovative solutions such as biodegradable mulch film, phytosanitary products made with pelargonic acid to control infestations and biolubricants for agricultural machinery and enhance the value of the landscape.
This sustainable approach to agriculture has not only led to bio-based biochemicals and bio-intermediaries for biorefineries, but also for food, animal feed products and renewable energy thanks to the cascading use of biomass and protein flour derived from the extraction of seed oil.