29 Jun 2020

The people behind Rehap: Maria Dani

Job title:

Head of Research Centre for Industrial Biotechnology and Biotechnology Area Manager



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.

21 Apr 2020

LCA shines bright light on REHAP’s market potential

Life cycle analysis has been a central pillar of the REHAP project, not only helping to establish the market potential of the project’s results but also helping steer the work towards a commercial outcome. With the preliminary analysis done at pilot scale, the LCA work is now concentrating on the development of clear business strategies based on optimised REHAP processes and products – and the signs are very encouraging that the project will have a significant impact on Europe’s bio-based industry and society as a whole. RINA’s Andrea Leoncini, who has led this work, explains more.


Q: What has been the main purpose of the life cycle analysis and cost analysis in the REHAP project?

Andrea Leoncini: The main target of the analysis has been to assess the environmental and economic impacts of the bio-based products developed by the REHAP project along their life cycles.

A preliminary analysis of the processes developed at pilot scale has been carried out, but we are now starting to work on a full comparative analysis, from an environmental and economic point of view, between the REHAP products and processes and their selected fossil-based benchmarked equivalent products and this will be completed by the end of the project.

The reason we carry out these studies (LCA, LCC and Social-LCA) has been to foster possible commercialisation of REHAP products in the future; both the final products themselves, like the wooden panels and the cement, and the intermediate compounds like 1,4-BDO and 2,3-BDO. We do this by highlighting the potential benefits of the bio-based products in terms of their sustainability as well as their related value chains (including the supply chains), compared to the identified benchmarks solutions.

Q: How have you approached this task? What have you analysed?

AL: In terms of assessing environmental and economic sustainability, we have had to assess several processes developed by the project, and integrating these efficiently has been a challenge. Due to the different scales of the process steps and the involvement of several partners, the collection of reliable data represented a critical phase towards making these sustainability assessments.

To do it, we established strict cooperation rules with the different partners involved in developing the several processes from the start of the project. We aimed to make them all aware of our LCA, LCCA and Social-LCA methodologies and of the potential benefits that sustainability analysis can have in the further development phases of the targeted processes.

In particular, we assessed four main products with related value chains, all starting from agro-forestry lignocellulosic residues. These were:

  • BioPUR insulation foams
    • Wooden boards including biophenolic resins
    • Green concrete including biosuperplasticisers
    • BioPU adhesives

Q: What have been the key findings of this work?

AL: As mentioned above, only a preliminary analysis has been performed up to now, but based on these preliminary findings, optimisation and scale-up activities have been performed on each value chain, focusing on the hotspots identified in the preliminary assessments. ‘Hotspots’ mean the process steps/parts of the value chains entailing the highest impacts, from environmental and/or economic perspectives.

Although some process steps (the extraction of sugars, lignin and tannins from bark for example) seem to entail quite significant and relevant impacts, it should be considered that such processes have only been assessed at pilot scale so far, so they still need further optimisation and development activities. However, these process steps do show significant potential in terms of impacts reduction, mainly linked to:

  • The opportunity to recycle residuals and wastestreams, which can be used to recover energy, thus reducing the amount of resources required. Residuals and wastestreams can also be valorised into valuable products themselves, such as bio-fire retardants;
  • The optimisation of the operative conditions, which reduces the amount of energy and utilities consumed in the processes, as well as reducing the amount of enzymes used (indeed, the latter seems to entail a relevant share of the overall impacts of the processes).

Q: What are the main benefits of the products, materials and processes you have analysed? How do they compare to their fossil-based equivalents?

AL: The processes and products developed and optimised by REHAP have the potential to help the European bio-based industry to involve the primary sector effectively within their developed value chains, as well as to penetrate the market with high-value bio-based materials, and not only those limited to the construction sector. Indeed, the identification and development of feasible and sustainable alternatives for valorising agroforestry residues, other than being used for energy production, 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 in fostering efficient and sustainable bio-based business cases.

Although a full comparison with fossil-based counterparts is still to be carried out, the developed processes represent significant ‘added-value’ compared to oil-based alternatives. Indeed, REHAP value chains are based on biomass feedstock: this means that a large part of the biogenic carbon (i.e. the atmospheric carbon captured via biomass in the carbon cycle) is retained in the final products. Moreover, the use of residual streams coming from agricultural and forest operations and the wide availability of such feedstock at EU level, will also guarantee the competitiveness of such materials compared to their fossil-based counterparts in terms of price stability, since they will be not subjected to fluctuations as the volatile prices of fossil-based resources are.

Q: Based on this extensive analysis, what do you see as the key potential to have emerged from REHAP? What are the commercial opportunities and how should these be best exploited?

AL: 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 was to reduce the use of fossil resources as well as reduce the required energy and CO2 emissions in processing its products compared to similar commercially available processes.

In this framework, sustainability assessment activities through LCA methodologies have significantly helped all REHAP partners steer their development activities towards more efficient and sustainable processes and products which are able to compete favourably with existing benchmarks.

The expected increasing share of bio-based products, like bio-based plastics, within the chemicals market represents a favourable context in which REHAP products may effectively find application: this is particularly suitable in Europe, whose share of production capacities of bio-based polymers is expected to reach 25 per cent globally in 2022 (starting from 18 per cent in 2017).

The main industrial sector targeted in the project, which was the construction sector, also offers increasing market potential, mainly due to issues of sustainability in the sector, resources consumption or GHG emissions, for example. The research of new, sustainable bio-based alternatives that improve the ‘environmental aspects’ associated to the building sector will significantly foster an increase in the market uptake of REHAP products.

Several studies have also proved that price may not be a hurdle for the marketability of bio-based products when the higher price is offset by increased sustainability along with features and performances at least comparable with existing fossil-based counterparts.

Europe represents a thriving environment in this context: construction and furniture is the second largest sector in terms of turnover within EU bio-based economy, only preceded by the pulp and paper sector. Moreover, European policy and Europe’s regulatory framework is increasingly boosting the introduction of more sustainable and alternative solutions into target sectors, including into the building and construction sector.

So REHAP will contribute to the further growth of bio-based industries in Europe, paving the way for the introduction of sustainable bio-based products and materials at competitive prices within a strategic market like that of the construction sector.

28 Feb 2020

Södra first in the world with fossil-free biomethanol

Södra, Sweden’s largest forest-owner association, decided to invest in a biomethanol production facility in 2017, helping them move towards a circular economy, resource-efficiency and being fossil-fuel free. This is a great example of what the Rehap project is also trying to achieve in strengthening the European bio-economy industry.

Södra has built the world’s first plant for commercial biomethanol, a sustainable fuel from forest biomass, at Södra’s pulp mill in Mönsterås. Over the next few days, a first pilot delivery will go to Emmelev A/S, a customer that will be using biomethanol in its biodiesel production.

“It is with pride that we have now started up the first commercial plant in the world for biomethanol. The transition to a bioeconomy means that all raw materials must be used efficiently. Biomethanol is produced from the crude methanol recovered from the manufacturing process at Södra’s pulp mills. It is part of the circular process that already exists in Södra’s mills, in which all parts of forest products are used for the best possible effect. With this step, we are showing the way to a fossil-free society, and it is fully in line with our own strategy for fossil-free transportation by 2030,” said Henrik Brodin, Strategic Business Development Manager at Södra.

The investment is also broadening Södra’s product portfolio with a new bioproduct.

“More and more people are realising why we need to switch to fossil-free alternatives. That’s why it feels so great that we can bring biomethanol to the market as a substitute for fossil methanol in the transport sector as well as a chemical base. Demand for bio-based products is favourable and we have long experience in delivering other bioproducts to the fuel and chemical industries. As we now continue to build on that, it feels particularly gratifying to have made a first pilot delivery to our customer Emmelev A/S. We are now looking forward to continuing the development of the product together with our customers,” said Viktor Odenbrink, Sales Manager at Södra Cell Bioproducts.

Emmelev A/S is a Danish family-owned agricultural company that has developed large-scale biodiesel production from local canola, but uses fossil methanol as a raw material in production.

“Biodiesel will play a key role in the transition to a fossil-free Denmark and we are very happy that Swedish biomethanol will now be used in production. Our biodiesel will be 100% renewable and based on locally sourced raw materials. Biodiesel produced from Danish canola and Swedish forests can secure fuel supplies for heavy road transport, as well as buses and construction machinery. This will be crucial for a transformation of the energy sector. We emphasise local and regional production and consider Sweden part of our local area, and we have good relationships with Swedish companies. It therefore feels natural to be entering into an agreement with Södra,” said Morten Simonsen, co-owner of Emmelev A/S.

27 Jan 2020

A sustainable alternative to crude oil

One of the main objectives of Rehap is to develop new methods for turning natural waste products into sustainable polyurethanes. A research team from the Fraunhofer Society and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) led by chemist Volker Sieber has been carrying out similar work, developing a new polyamide family which can be produced from a byproduct of cellulose production.

Polyamides are important plastics. They can be found in ski bindings and in cars or items of clothing. Commercially, they have been made predominantly from crude oil up until now; there are just a few “green” alternatives, such as polyamides based on castor oil.

Bio-based compounds are often significantly more expensive to produce and have therefore only been able to penetrate the market before now if they have had particular properties.

A team led by Volker Sieber, Professor of the Chemistry of Biogenic Raw Materials at TU Munich, has now developed a completely new polyamide family which can be produced from a byproduct of cellulose production.

New polyamide family

The biogenic starting material, (+)-3-carene, is made up of two rings which are fused to one another. The chemists at the TUM and the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) in Straubing have now modified one of the rings in such a way that it can be opened up, yielding a long chain of molecules, a polymer.

The second ring remains intact here. In this way, instead of a linear polymer chain like in traditional polyamides, a chain which bears many small rings and other side groups emerges. This gives the polymer completely new functions.

Special properties

The new polyamides impress thanks to their special properties which make them attractive for many applications. For example, they melt at higher temperatures than the competing crude oil derived products. In addition, the new compounds can be produced transparently as well as in a partially crystalline manner, which increases its later application possibilities using the same starting substance.

“By way of reaction conditions and catalysts during synthesis, we can easily control whether we will obtain a transparent or partially crystalline polyamide in the end,” explains Sieber. “However, the basis for this is offered above all by the specific structure of the bio-based starting material which would be very expensive to obtain from fossil raw materials.”

Increasing sustainability

From an industrial point of view, it is important that the synthesis basically takes place in one reaction container. This “one-pot” process would not just allow a significant reduction in costs, but would also mean a clear increase in sustainability, according to Sieber.

The biogenic starting material (+)-3-carene can actually be distilled at a high purity and comparatively low cost from the turpentine oil produced as a secondary product in the cellulose industry.

Up until now, the turpentine oil was only heated in the cellulose factories. “We use it as a vital starting material for plastics,” says Sieber. “This is an enormous increase in value.”

No competition with food production

Sieber points out that with turpentine oil being a side product of the forest industry, in contrary to the use of castor oil, we are not competing against food production. The researchers are not yet completely satisfied with the achieved overall yield of the process, this is at 25 percent by mass.

“Thanks to the simple scalability, the potential for an efficient process is very high,” says Paul Stockmann, whose doctoral thesis at the TUM is based on the findings. At the Fraunhofer IGB, the chemist is now working on establishing (+)-3-carene-based polyamides on the market as alternatives to crude-oil-based high-performance polyamides.

18 Sep 2019

Rehap to take part in new bioeconomy webinar series

The Bio4Products aims to unlock the potential of biomass to create a range of more sustainable products. They have organised a series of webinars for the coming months which Rehap will be playing an active role in – our very own Lars Wietschel of the University of Augsburg will be taking part in the first of the series on 26th September.

We caught up with James Ling from Bio4Products to hear more about the upcoming webinar series and what the Bio4Products project is about.


What is the Bio4Products project?

Bio4Products is a collaborative project which aims to unlock the potential of biomass to create a range of more sustainable products.

One part of the project is dedicated to biomass conversion. Our coordinator BTG Biomass Technology Group has built a world first thermo-chemical fractionation plant, which transforms all sorts of lignocellulosic biomass into intermediate materials (lignin and sugar).

Then we have three industrial companies in the consortium who have integrated these materials into their production processes. End products being developed include insulation foams, moulding compounds, and modified wood.


How does the project relate to Rehap?

Both projects have very similar aims – to strengthen the European bioeconomy and reduce our reliance on fossil raw materials. Besides that they also have some technical similarities.

While both projects use straw and bark as raw materials, the end projects are quite different – it just goes to show the flexibility and amazing potential of the bioeconomy.

Both projects have been funded within the SPIRE public private partnership so have application in the process industries.


What are the challenges of finding the right biomass feedstock strategy?

Obviously when biomass is the main raw material for your business, securing a reliable supply is absolutely essential. As the bioeconomy should focus on sustainability you also want to find feedstock locally to reduce transport. Then you have lots of other factors to consider: quality, suitability, price… As the bioeconomy continues to expand competition for biomass will heat up and having a bulletproof feedstock strategy will become ever more important.


Tell us about the webinar series you have planned.

The main aim of the series is to share knowledge from the project and engage in a dialogue with other people working in the bioeconomy. We will investigate the entire value chain – hence the name of the series ‘From biomass to bio-based products’ – and have expert presentations from research and industry representatives on a range of topics.

The first webinar on 26 September will focus on biomass feedstock strategies, something that has been studied extensively in the Bio4Products project by Capax Biobased Development. We will also hear from the University of Augsburg, who have researched the topic within Rehap.

Subsequent webinars will focus on: Developing a pyrolysis-based biorefinery (November), Making products out of lignin and sugars (January), and Ensuring sustainability (March).


Interested participants can register for the first webinar via this link.

04 Dec 2017

Rehap visits Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant

During the most recent partner meeting in Ghent, Germany, hosted by Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), participants had the opportunity to tour the plant to see what really goes on inside the state-of-the-art facility. We spoke with Brecht Vanlerberghe who heads research and development at BBEPP.

Who are BBEPP and what do they do?

You have BBEPP which is the plant, a flexible and diversified pilot plant for the development and scale-up of new or existing bio-based and sustainable processes to an industrial level. It performs the entire process from the green resources to the final product.

BBEU is the task force responsible for tasks in areas such as biocatalysis, green chemistry, and the development of industrial recovery and purification techniques, in several publicly funded projects of which 16 are H2020 projects and three are Interreg Europe projects.

In addition to this, BBEU is a service provider to many companies in the biotech domain and bio-based economy. Since 2010, BBEU has served over 100 customers in over 200 private projects in the field of development, scale-up or pilot production.

And BBEU’s mission?

To close the gap in the innovation chain of the bio-based economy, bridging science and industrial production.

What is the role of BBEPP in the Rehap project?

BBEU does the upscaling of 2,3-butanediol from fermentation, which is a renewable chemical building block.

The process performed begins from the upscaling of the extraction of tannin and lignin from bark residues which are then made available to the partners (i.e. Foresa and Technalia) for the evaluation of bio-based resins. After the extraction, the residues are hydrolysed to produce so-called second-generation sugars – sugars made from lignocellulosic biomass, or in other terms, derived from plant materials.

The substance produced by hydrolysis is called hydrolysate, and it is these that will then be evaluated by BBEPP for the upscaling of 2,3-butanediol, with a new technology developed by Biosyncaucho, a company that aims to develop high added-value chemical products from renewable raw materials. Novamont is a company that converts ex-industrial sites to active biorefineries and evaluates feedstock for the fermentative production of 1,4-butanediol. Both 1,4-butanediol and 2,3-butanediol, the final products in this process, are therefore chemicals made from renewable biomass and can replace non-renewable chemicals.

You recently hosted the Rehap partner meeting which included a tour of BBEPP. What did this entail?

I gave a brief introduction on the history, the mission and the activities of BBEPP after which Karel Dewinter, Rehap project leader for BBEPP, invited partners on a guided tour through the plant.

The BBEPP infrastructure exists out of roughly three large areas: the red hall, where the biomass fractionation and the less sensitive processes are executed; the white hall, where the fermentation processes can be scaled from the lab fermenters to 15m³ fermenters; and the green hall, where mild chemical and explosion-sensitive processes can be run.

The partners were also shown the construction area, where a new process hall is being built which will host extra, and larger, equipment to increase capacity and to enlarge the capabilities of BBEPP. The inauguration event of this new build is scheduled for February 19th 2018 – so save the date!

02 Aug 2017

REHAP makes waves at the 25th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition in Stockholm

The global biomass community gathered in Stockholm from June 12-15 to conduct business, network and discuss the latest developments and innovations as well as to discover the most innovative bioenergy applications from industry – and REHAP was there in force.

EUBCE is the most important international conference for the biomass sector, combined with a technology exhibition. For more than 30 years, it has been serving as the annual meeting point for biomass experts from research, development and the industry. With presentations addressing the latest technologies, the policy framework, and the medium and long- term strategies and potentials, EUBCE is the interface between science, industry and policy makers.

As such, many research projects were also present, with REHAP also on display. Insight Publishers, REHAP’s communications WP leader, was the Platinum Media Sponsor for the event and was able to use this opportunity to promote its bio-based projects. The REHAP poster was on display, while hundreds of project lea ets were also distributed. IPL’s William Davis and Sam Davis were also on hand to explain the project objectives to interested delegates.

And there were more than 1,500 delegates from 70 countries in attendance and, as the hosting country, Sweden ranked first by number of participants, followed by Germany and Italy. More than 850 presentations covering the entire scope of biomass value chains were given as well as two parallel events and five workshops conducted. As part of the event programme, a tour to Scandinavian Biogas Södertörn Plant was also organised.

David Baxter, Former European Commission, Joint Research Centre said: “The very strong message we all heard at the beginning of the conference was that replacement of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) in the shortest possible time is absolutely essential. There is no time to lose eliminating fossil carbon emissions from the activities of human society. It is clear that all available alternatives to fossil fuels are needed and that biomass is an essential component in the transition to a 100 per cent renewable society.

“Hence the main theme of the conference,“The indispensable role of biomass”. While maintaining adherence to the principles of environmental sustainability it is therefore obvious that it is a question of how biomass can be utilised for bioenergy, biofuels, biochemicals and the wider bioeconomy and not whether biomass should be used at all.

“Strategies for the integrated use of biomass
within the widest scope of land use are essential. Appropriate technologies are already being exploited as we heard in EUBCE 2017 and research will continue to EUBCE 2018 and beyond.”

Henrik Hernrooth, Chairman of the Boards of Pöyry PLC and Chairman of the Climate Leadership Council, Conference General Co-Chair added: “I feel that we need to gradually move from sustainability debate into sustainable action. In order to define what it is sustainable we need better measurements of biomass. Biomass is visible from the satellite and it is an interesting carbon stock that we can now measure with proper tools. Much of the debate about future is about threats. We need to move this debate into a positive vision.”

Heinz A. ossenbrink, Former European Commission, Joint Research Centre, described his perspective on integrating renewable energies along eight Vs - Vision,Variety,Versatility, Vectors, Value, Vulnerability, Visibility and Victory - concluding that renewable energy could provide 100 per cent of Europe’s energy by 2042.

Gustav Melin, Managing Director, Svebio said: “In the last 10 years, we got three times more carbon assimilated in biomass than what is needed for one year global energy supply. So, I would like to give two messages to all scientists: stop talking about bioenergy as a limited resource. All facts show that there is enough biomass for all energy needs. Stop talking about non-food biomass: it is an irrelevant argument, there are always other reasons behind starvation than our capacity to grow food.”

Nicolae Scarlat, Technical Programme Chairman, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Directorate for Energy,Transport and Climate, summarised the results of the conference into four take-home messages: “We need long-term vision, policy consistency and stability; we need transformation of the economy, not a marginal change; we need technology specific policies instead of technology neutrality; we need phase- out fossil fuels and keep fossil carbon in the ground.”

The 26th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition will take place in Denmark on 14-18 May 2018 and will include a technical tour. IPL will be media partners again and there will be free delegate places available for REHAP partners.

01 Aug 2017

Interview with Professor Axel Tuma and Dr. Andrea Thorenz

Professor Axel Tuma, Dr. Andrea Thorenz
Chair of Production & Supply Chain Management, Institute of Materials Resource Management, University of Augsburg
Professor Tuma and Andrea Thorenz are currently working with the REHAP project, which is aiming to strengthen the European bio-economy by creating novel materials from agricultural and forestry waste, and assessing how they can be used commercially in the green building sector. Still in the early stages of the project, the main task being they are undertaking at present involves a literature and data base review about the ‘arisings’ and focal substances like lignin, tannin or cellulose of the first aggregate, which will be used for the project. Arisings are the amount of base material available to be used at the start of the value chain in the development of bio-products.

Has this study revealed any interesting findings to date?

axel headshotAXEL: Well, our study is basically looking at how much “stuff” we have in Europe and, if we scale up what we have found so far and if we are really successful in the project, we think we can drive a bio-economy with agroforestry waste.

The study has focused on how much base biomaterial we have in Europe and where is it located. For example, we have found out that we have a lot of wheat straw in the Paris area. So, the interesting question now is how much of it can we use? First of all, we have the bio-mass, but of course everything that is needed in the food chain should remain for food; we don’t want to touch this. The next thing is to look to the farmers; they use, for example, straw as a soil conditioner. We don’t want to change this, so we need to work out the sustainable removal rate. For example, only 40 per cent of the wheat straw should be removed from the field. Then we have other competitive users like horse bedding, straw for cattle and so on. Essentially, we want to keep things sustainable and traditional in terms of all this, and calculate what we are able to remove while doing so. In this way, we don’t touch the food issue and are sustainable when it comes to farming methods.

How have you done this study?

andrea headshotANDREA: First of all, we investigated all the existing databases. Fortunately, the data that exists about the subsidies the farmers get from the European Union is very well reported and clearly shows where the bio-mass from this goes. We have also taken some research using industry reports and we have now put all this data together. What we have produced is a report about where materials come from and what are most useful for us.

 The most promising species in the agricultural sector is wheat, which we expected, with large arisings of 46million tonnes of bio-economic potential, which we can use without bothering the farmers. This is followed by maize stover, barley straw and rapeseed. In terms of the areas where these materials are currently grown, it is quite interesting. The area of Paris is really important concerning wheat straw, with nearly 7 million tonnes in the area alone. South West France is also highly productive with wheat, so, France is very important in terms of wheat. The Czech Republic and Bulgaria follow. France, again, Italy and Romania are important areas for maize stover and the area of Paris and Spain are interesting concerning barley and rapeseed.

Were any of these results unexpected?

ANDREA: Yes. It is the first time that we have used this type of research and I was surprised with the fact that it is so centred on France. I think that we have a lot of materials. If we put it all together, it is more than 100 million tonnes per year and that is a very good base on which to build a bio-economy.

Did you also work on forecasting how much material will be available in the future?

AXEL: Yes. And again, wheat is the most promising. We used different methods, based on expert estimations from the European Union. If you look at the example of rapeseed, in the last 15 years, we have grown production from around 10 mega tonnes to 25 mega tonnes. This 2.5 growth factor is due to the fact that rapeseed goes to the bio-energy sector and this is incentivised. So, you see that when there is an incentive driven by the EU, it does work.

On the other hand, when we look at the expert’s estimations going forward, we see that they are going down in terms of rapeseed production. An explanation for this is a lowering of the incentives to grow rape for energy and so a switch away from energy crops in general. The interesting thing here for me is the clear impact the policy makers have on growth yields. This, of course, is positive news for projects like REHAP, because if we are successful and can convince policy makers of the benefits of our bio-products, what they then do can have an impact on what biomass is grown and where. So we can help drive policy.

Would it be fair to say that if we continue growing rapeseed at this rate, that it is using land that could be used for other crops?

AXEL: Yes, that is true, which is why it also is important to carry out social and life cycle assessment. We have to balance this and look at all the processes involved in making a bio-product and assess the impact it all has, environmental and even social impacts. I think that is the very clever approach this project is taking. So, the study is now proving from your initial results that there is a good basis for expanding the bio-economy based on what is available and what can be used sustainably.

What is next once this particular work is done and how can this then be usefully applied?

ANDREA: After this study, we will deal with the issue of quality - the question of whether or not the quality is sufficient in the places we find the materials. This work is done in the same work package, and will impact on the data we have produced and enhance it. We will then complete the database and make it available for all. This will show us where the most interesting bio-mass, like wheat, maize, barley and bark is now and will be for the next 10 years for specific regions of Europe. It will also, to a large extent, identify the quality of this material as far as we can.

AXEL: Another point about this study that was also interesting relates to the issue of sustainable supply chain and resource management. Coming from a background of supply chain management, I am normally developing strategic supply chains, which means where is the procurement site, where are the production facilities, where are storage areas and distribution centres?

So here we will design an optimal network for a European bio-economy. What is the cost, ecoefficiency and the optimal procurement strategy in these areas? From there, we can predict how many procurement points, how many storage points, what facilities and what capacity is needed and where, hopefully close to the customers. We will do this on a cost data basis, but also using the life cycle data and the social life data. With all this in place, the data you have and then the planning for the infrastructure, how big do you think that the bio economy can get? AXEL: The people are so inspiring and to be honest, I cannot really estimate. In my opinion, it is difficult to develop all these bio chemical processes but I am optimistic with the skills of the people.

So, significant growth potential is there?

AXEL: Yes. I think so. We are really believers in closed-loop supply chains, which mean that we do not only look at the supply chain, but also issues like re-use, re-manufacturing and effective recycling. This is a common approach with industrial products, like computers, cell-phones and so on. So, this is the first time that we have entered this bio-arena and looked closely at a green cycle or the starting point of a green cycle.

What do you mean by green cycles?

ANDREA: A green cycle means that all the products we construct, from the first material, will come back in a recycling cycle. We really believe that if we want, or if future generations want, life on this planet, we have to imitate nature, which really does go in green cycles and has done for hundreds of millions of years. Take a tree, which can stand for hundreds of years. When it falls, microorganism take its residues, make fresh soil and give life to new trees. In the same spirit we must produce bio-based products, which will be reintegrated in nature and come back in many new ways and cycles. This is the starting point for a green cycle and a circular economy. It is our belief that if we work in this field we will come closer to nature and in that way we can develop a real circular economy, as nature has done for hundreds of millions of years.

31 Jul 2017

PhD student carries 4kg of straw back from Mobile Flip meeting

Rehap sent PhD student Lars Wietschel to Paris to attend the workshop of another SPIRE 2030 project, Mobile Flip – the Mobile and Flexible Industrial Processing of Biomass. He was there to exchange developments and resource sampling, build friendships and contacts with other project researchers, and to return home with a rucksack full of straw.

Currently working as research assistant at the Chair for Production & Supply Chain Management at the University of Augsburg, Lars was invited to attend Mobile Flip’s second Demonstration Technical Meeting by Dr Tarja Tamminen, the project coordinator of Mobile Flip and leader of Rehap’s second work package, and Dr Andrea Thorenz who is involved with Rehap’s waste management work package.

One of Mobile Flip’s main objectives is to use mobile processing for the treatment of the underexploited organic materials that are produced as by-products when agriculture and agroforestry are harvested, and utilise these biomass resources into products such as fuel or biodegradable pesticides.

As a result of Rehap’s waste management research, the University of Augsburg identified the region of Bassin Parisien, the area surrounding Paris, as the region with the largest bioeconomic potential of wheat straw across Europe. This lowland belt around Paris can produce crops all year round because of its optimum climate, compared with Germany where the winters are too harsh for harvests to grow and, therefore, the bioeconomy is not as prevalent.

Lars was the only Rehap project associate on the Mobile Flip workshop but remarked on how interesting it was to meet members working under the same umbrella cause – the better use of biomass. He added that, “it was nice to go and meet other researchers as it is easy to forget, or put the time in, to network with other projects. Whilst Rehap and Mobile Flip have different project outcomes, meeting and talking with them has definitely built a great new network for the future.”

The aim of Lars’ participation was on the one hand to do just this and exchange different SPIRE projects with similar aims, and on the other hand to retrieve some wheat samples for different biophysical analytics.

The meeting consisted of numerous field trips around Paris to different companies and organisations involved in agricultural and forestry activities. On-site demonstrations included the application of heat and chemical processes in the production of energy products from biomass, the demonstration of agricultural biomass production, and a visit to an industrial site processing agricultural biomass.

“For me, the most interesting visit was to the university, UniLaSalle, in Beauvais, as the work being carried out there is most closely linked to our first task in Rehap, the assessment of residue potentials,” reported Lars. The university has a large agricultural research institute participating in important studies on the maximisation of cereal and straw yields by maintaining sustainable, healthy and productive high soil qualities, also known as the sustainable removal rate.

When Lars asked UniLaSalle whether a batch of their straw could be taken back to Germany for testing, “they replied by stating that they had a lot of straw left over from their research acitivites and so they kindly handed me loads! Luckily I had my hiking bag with me and so I managed to carry four kilograms of straw back with me on the train.”

When the straw arrived back in Augsburg, it was sent to the laboratory in Valladolid for further investigation for the Rehap project.

26 Jul 2017

Karel De Winter attends Biotech 2017 conference

In June, Karel De Winter from Bio Base Pilot Plant (BBEPP), partners on the Rehap project, attended the four-day BioTech 2017 conference in Prague on important aspects of advanced biotechnologies. Across the four days, lectures and poster presentations were organised under the following sessions: medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology; environmental biotechnology; food and agriculture biotechnology; and biorefinery and industrial biotechnology.

The biorefinery and industrial biotechnology sessions focused on discovering and searching for new ways to process different kinds of waste, how to obtain valuable compounds such as biofuels and bioplastic building blocks, and also a key aspect of what De Winter works on at BBEPP.  “We combine technologies (biomass pre-treatment, green chemistry, fermentation, biorefining and downstream purification) for advanced manufacturing of converting biomass, in particular industrial side streams and agricultural crops, into bio-based products,” explains De Winter.

The environmental biotechnology sessions focused on how biological systems can help restore contaminated environments – land, air and water. Special attention was dedicated to the research associated with energy recovery and material recovery from waste to create a circular economy, when resources are kept in use for as long as possible by recovering and regenerating products and materials.

De Winter added, “This was very appropriate in regard to the work Rehap are doing in following the codes of a circular economy, by avoiding waste and trying to maximise the use of all waste streams.”

De Winter attended numerous invited lectures during the event, which took place in the spectacular National Library, on both biorefinery and environmental biotechnology. Discussions were centred around how to make use of all renewable and biological materials, and the need to establish an outline of which processes and technologies are the most noteworthy and applicable.

Tommaso Lotti, from Politechnico di Milano in Italy, presented a stimulating lecture entitled “Physiochemical characterisation of EPS-based biomaterial recovered from anammox granular sludge”. Anammox is an oxidation process appropriate for the treatment of nitrogen-rich wastewater. The granulation process – breakup – of anammox biomass offers an effective strategy to preserve the biomass in anammox reactors. The recovery of biomaterials from the sludge produced — the semi-solid slurry created from wastewater treatment processes — for use in a variety of industrial sectors would substantially increase the sustainability and economics of wastewater treatment, promoting the development of the circular economy that Rehap is working toward.

De Winter was particularly excited by the presentation led by Henk Noorman from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, entitled “Syngas fermentation design for hybrid biorefineries”, a highly relevant topic but one that has not been widely covered in the Rehap project. Henk discussed turning gas from fuel production of domestic and industrial waste, as well as forestry and agro-residues, into syngas - a mixture of gases comprising of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This is produced by converting organic based carbon materials, followed by fermentation to bioethanol for the use in biomass products.

De Winter concluded that, “it is always interesting to network and meet people at such events and it is great to see that there is a lot of work being done on the biorefinery concept. Attending the event made it clear that Rehap is a noticeable figure in the biomass market, producing models from different waste sources and actually making final usable products out of them.”