29 Jun 2020

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.

20 Jun 2019

Karel De Winter

Job title: Team leader bioprocessing 

Company: Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant

Tell us about your education and working life up to now.

I pursued a PhD at Ghent University after obtaining my MSc in bioscience engineering. Thanks to the FWO Flanders (a Belgium public research council) I focused on research in the field of applied biotechnology. From this I presented in numerous international conferences, publications, patents and book chapters. Completing my PhD I joined the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) as an R&D project engineer where I currently lead a talented team in the field of industrial biotechnology.

What is your main expertise?

During my PhD I studied enzymatic glycosylation processes, enzyme engineering around the recombinant production and purification of proteins. Now at BBEPP I lead projects on biomass pre-treatment, biocatalysis, (gas) fermentation, downstream purification and green chemistry. In this broad area of industrial biotechnology, the team is focused on process development and scale-up, as well as food-grade applications,

What is your work focused on in the Rehap project?

BBEPP is involved in scaling Rehap's developed processes - the extraction of tannins, lignin and carbohydrates from agroforestry waste - as well as the subsequent fermentation of the obtained carbon source to diols, including their isolation. This latter process highlights the broad spectrum of technology BBEPP offers from biomass pre-treatment over fermentation to ATEX downstream processing.

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

In the scale-up the most typical are linked to the broad spectrum of technologies applied. When scaling processes from lab to pilot scale, small challenges encountered in the lab such as purification steps, are exacerbated. For example, when extracting bark, a relatively simple process, it floats on water making it difficult to handle and pump. Also, the piloting phase is used to elevate the performance of any process with industrial equipment and so this is the stage where hurdles are typically encountered. A pro-active mind-set, flexibility and hands-on mentality are must-haves in any piloting environment.

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

Process development at lab scale is a high risk yet low capital-intensive operation. An industrial process on the other hand, typically requires a huge capital investment, but the associated risks from a technological point of view after often limited. Between both phases there is a distinct gap in the innovation chain. During piloting the technological risks are still obvious, while also large capital investments are required. Therefore, the use of shared pilot facilities allows this gap to be bridged in the most efficient way: forging equipment, utilities and in particular skilled and experienced workers. Scaling Rehap processes at BBEPP has allowed in-depth techno-economic assessments, as well as the generation of significant amounts of sample materials.

What impact do you see Rehap having in the future?

Some of the processes developed during the project certainly have potential for commercialisation. However, as is the case for many biotechnological driven innovations, policy makers will have to make sure a suitable environment is created to enable true market penetration.

When scaling processes from lab to pilot scale, small challenges encountered in the lab such as purification steps, are exacerbated

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

Working on the establishment of technology to convert agroforestry waste to building materials is both challenging and inspiring. Moreover, Rehap bundles a large variety of motivated people skilled in different domains. We are also blessed with a great coordinator who makes sure the entire project remains on track.

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

I anticipate the Rehap results to contribute to a solid basis for further research and valorisation. For BBEPP, a continued collaboration with partners from the consortium would be beneficial. 

Meet the other brains behind Rehap

05 Mar 2019

Andrea Leoncini

Job title: Engineer 

Company: RINA Consulting

Tell us about your education and working life up to now.

I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Genoa in Italy and I have been employed at RINA Consulting SpA since June 2014.

What is your main expertise?

I am mainly involved in industrial consultancy projects and European co-funded R&D projects dealing with the assessment of environmental, the economic and social sustainability of products and processes through the application LCA, LCCA and S-LCA methodologies. I am also involved in road-mapping activities for the identification and the development of business opportunities for industrial customers and associations. In particular, I am involved in consultancy activities for the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC), by supporting BIC in expanding bioeconomy concepts across Europe and in the identification of specific themes to be potentially incorporated in the Annual Work Plans to be published by the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU).

What is your work focused on in the Rehap project?

I am responsible for LCA, LCCA and S-LCA of the developed bio-based processes and solutions, from the starting biomass supply to the final targeted applications. Moreover, we, as RINA, are also responsible for the market analysis and the business plan of the main products obtained in the project, as well as for resource efficiency studies on the developed processes.

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

In the framework of environmental and economic sustainability assessments, one of the main challenges is the efficient integration of the several processes developed within the project. Due to the different scales of the process steps and the several involved partners, the collection of reliable data can represent a critical phase towards sustainability assessments. A strict cooperation with the different partners that are in charge of developing the several processes has been set up since the very beginning of the project, aiming to make them aware on LCA, LCCA and S-LCA methodologies and on the potential benefits that sustainability analysis can have in the further development phase of the targeted processes.

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

Sustainability criteria in terms of environmental, economic and social impacts are among the objectives of the project. One of the main targets of the project is indeed to reduce the utilisation of fossil resources, the required energy and CO2 emissions compared to similar commercially available processes. In this framework, sustainability assessment activities through LCA methodologies can significantly aid all project’s partners in steering the development activities towards more efficient and sustainable processes and products able to compete with existing benchmarks.

What impact do you see Rehap having in the future?

Processes and products developed and optimised within the project may help European bio-based industry to effectively involve the primary sector within the developed value chains, as well as penetrate the market with high-value bio-based materials (not limited to the construction sector). Indeed, the identification and the development of feasible and sustainable alternatives for valorising agro-forestry residues, other than the energetic use, can pave the way to the creation of new value chains and bio-based concepts, where the primary sector is involved and considered not just as a “biomass supplier”, but as a key partner to foster efficient and sustainable bio-based business cases.

sustainability assessment activities through LCA methodologies can significantly aid all project’s partners in steering the development activities towards more efficient and sustainable processes...

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

The project is a great opportunity for personal and professional growth. Indeed, Rehap consortium entails a wide array of expertise and knowledge, represented by many people and entities coming from different countries and sectors.

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

I hope that the Rehap project can represent a “stepping stone” to further cooperations among partners, as well as to the future involvement of my working group in similar projects, aiming to assess the sustainability of bio-based processes and products.

Meet the other brains behind Rehap

30 Jan 2019

Aitor Barrio

Job title: Senior researcher 

Company: TECNALIA R&I

Tell us about your education and working life up to now.

My career began with a PhD in Organic Chemistry from The Complutense University of Madrid, following which I got job at TECNALIA Research & Innovation, a private applied research centre in Spain, as a materials research scientist. TECNALIA R&I participates within a number of local and international projects, including European framework programmes. Throughout my working life I have published many scientific papers, presented at countless international conferences and directed a PhD thesis based on the flammability of polyurethanes.

What is your main expertise?

The development of building fire retardant materials. When I first started at TECNALIA R&I I spent three years in the fire laboratory before becoming responsible for the R&D Fire Laboratory.

What is your work focused on in the Rehap project?

I am the project coordinator of Rehap, but my main focus is as research leader in fire developments and characterisation. We are tasked with researching the improvement of fire behaviour in biobased materials for the building sector.

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

As project coordinator one of the main challenges is, unsurprisingly, the coordination of the project as a whole, or put more plainly, solving the issues that a big project generates on a daily basis. My main go-to clause in these situations is to be as open and to actively talk and discuss as much as possible with the different partners to try and group together to solve the problems that arise. This not only keeps me from isolating myself in these situations, but it also usually means the problems are resolved more efficiently and effectively.

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

First and foremost my work as coordinator is critical to ensuring the main objectives of the project are achieved. As a researcher working in my specific field of fire, however, the achievements set out for the unique fire objectives will help towards attaining part of the projects main objectives of validating the success of a real scenario – for Rehap that is the construction materials we are developing.

What impact do you see Rehap having in the future?

In my opinion, I can see that the processes optimised and developed during the project have the real potential to be useful for the valorisation of biomass residues not just in the construction industry but for use in different varying applications. On the other hand, the partial or complete substitution of fossil fuel intermediates by the biobased equivalents that are developed during the project, is a lot more complicated to predict. There are many aspects including political and economical for example, that have a strong influence on how they will penetrate the market.

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

Rehap provides me with the opportunity to work collaboratively with a diverse mix of people from other countries and many different companies and research centres. Each individual brings to the table a wide range of expertise from their differing backgrounds. You’re learning something new about the work all the time, plus you’re meeting great new colleagues and friends.

I try and be open and actively talk with different partners to try and solve the problems that arise with trying to coordinate a project"

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

My answer is once again twofold: as project coordinator it would be fantastic if the developments of Rehap really reach the market and can be used not just in the construction industry, but also further afield. As a researcher, I hope to find a good solution to continue improving the products developed during the project for optimum quality.

Meet the other brains behind Rehap

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