The people behind Rehap: Maria Dani

Job title:

Head of Research Centre for Industrial Biotechnology and Biotechnology Area Manager

Company:

Novamont

Tell us about your education and working life up to now

In 1978, I graduated in biological sciences at the University of Genoa, Italy. After a year of work in Liguria, I moved to the USA for a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, where I performed research in the field of molecular biology. In 1984, I returned to Italy to work for four years as a researcher in Farmitalia Carlo Erba, a pharmaceutical company located in Milan. After that, I worked for four years in Agrimont, Tuscany, were I was responsible for the Molecular Biology Laboratory, working in the field of agriculture. After the closure of Agrimont, I was hired by Tecnogen, a research company active in pharmaceutical research and the development and production of investigational medicinal products.  I spent about 20 years at Tecnogen covering a number of different roles, including managing the molecular biology laboratory (1991-1998), the quality control laboratory (1999-2001), being in charge of development and production (2001-2002), after which I became the technical director (2002-2009) and finally the head of production unit (2009-2012). The company was then put into liquidation, and so I joined Novamont in 2012 as biotechnology area manager. After the Tecnogen was acquired by Novamont and transformed into a Biotechnology Research Centre, I also became responsible for this research unit.

What is your main expertise?

My expertise is mainly in industrial biotechnology, with a focus on biochemicals production by fermentation and purification. I have a background in molecular biology and in the production of investigational medicinal products.

What is your work focused on in the Rehap project?

I am responsible of the activities that Novamont carries out within Rehap, like testing alternative renewable feedstocks for the production of a bio-building block and demonstrating the process at relevant scales.

What are the main challenges you face in this work and how are you meeting these challenges?

It is important to identify the optimal protocol for the production of building blocks with alternative renewable feedstocks in order to obtain a final product with high performance and purity grade. The continuous interactions and comparisons with other project partners and with their different experiences allows us together to find a solution to the technical challenges usually based on the different and complex characteristics of the renewable feedstocks used.

How do you see your work helping the project achieve its main objectives?

My work can help the project through the valorisation of a biomass residue by using it for the production of a valuable biochemical. In particular with our researchers, we work in parallel to the development and continuous optimisation of the process for obtaining intermediates from waste cellulose. The more suitable formulations will be selected for the projects applications identified.

What impact do you see Rehap having in the future?

The project will find new solutions to valorise new sources of renewable starting material (agricultural residues, process byproducts, etc.) for the production of biochemical to be used in different sectors, such as green buildings and bioplastics, with lower environmental impact.

What does the future hold for the development of the bioeconomy?

The circular economy and the bioeconomy are playing an increasingly decisive role in sustainable development. In particular, they will support the reindustrialisation of sites that are no longer financially viable, regenerating rural areas and giving life to bio-products designed to protect water and soils and restoring value to communities. This will encourage the spread of a systemic and circular culture.

What do you enjoy most about working on a project like Rehap?

Interacting with people with different areas of expertise and visiting other laboratories and industrial sites.

How would you like to see your work develop after the project ends?

I would like to be able to add new opportunities for the use of renewable waste material, in order to produce new bio-based products and promote the development of a bioeconomy model based on the efficient use of resources. Several countries worldwide are supporting the use of bio-based materials in order to increase system sustainability and reduce the amount of waste which is disposed of in landfill, thus pushing their market.