5 November 2019

An interview with Mladen Istuk, director of the biorefinery project development at INA

In this exclusive interview, Mladen Istuk talks about what INA is doing in the circular bioeconomy and its involvement in the BBI JU Demo Project GRACE

“INA as a social and environmental responsible middle European company has recognized value of bioeconomy in fighting climate change, and through its development activities is constantly seeking for advanced technologies, which can be used to align with global trends, as well as to enable creation of new opportunities for the company”. To say it – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Mladen Istuk, director of the biorefinery project development department at INA, the Croatian oil company.

In this exclusive interview with us, he talks about what INA is doing in the circular bioeconomy and its involvement in the BBI JU Demo Project GRACE. And also about the Croatian bioeconmy

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

What does bioeconomy mean for an oil and gas company like INA?

INA as a social and environmental responsible middle European company has recognized value of bioeconomy in fighting climate change, and through its development activities is constantly seeking for advanced technologies, which can be used to align with global trends, as well as to enable creation of new opportunities for the company.

These efforts represent a shift in long term oil company strategy, a company mindset change and portfolio spreading, while through entering to new businesses, preservation of existing job positions for future could be obtained and additional value created.

Do you think biofuels can be a viable alternative to fossil products?

I like to think wider – any kind of green, low or carbon neutral energy is welcomed. From the point of view of an oil company with wide retail network of 500 gas stations, it is more likely to think in direction of liquid fuels. But I think that is absolutely mandatory to use any kind of sustainable renewable sources to enable sufficient energy requirements, and to do so, only biofuels would not be enough.

INA and Clariant have recently announced the results of a trial based on the use of miscanthus? Can you tell us more?

As part of the INA Downstream 2023 New Course program and the analysis of developmental possibilities for bio-component refining, within the Biorefinery project which is being developed for future production of advanced biofuels, the first harvest of the miscanthus energy crop was completed at the beginning of the year. The miscanthus (lat. Miscanthus x giganteus) was planted on a demonstration farm in Rugvica in cooperation with BC Institute, near Zagreb, and this season’s harvest yielded around 30 tons of biomass.

Collected biomass was sent to Clariant, a focused and innovative specialty chemical company, to their pre-commercial sunliquid® plant in Straubing, Germany, for processing and conversion into lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol. The results give cause for optimism as they show that the sunliquid® technology can successfully convert miscanthus into lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol. The biomass testing for biofuel production took place under the EU funded GRACE project (GRowing Advanced Industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries), financed by the European Union.

What is your role in the BBI JU Grace project? What are the general objectives of the project?

The aims and objectives of the GRACE project are to optimize various miscanthus and hemp value chains, to produce sustainable products with a strong market potential and to develop miscanthus and hemp as a sustainable feedstock resource for cultivation on marginal, contaminated and abandoned land.

Project consists of 10 demonstration cases, and INA has a role of the leader of the demonstration case 1, for testing the cultivation of Miscanthus hybrids on marginal and lower quality soils for the purpose of processing into advanced bioethanol. In total, 14 different novel Miscanthus hybrids are being tested in 8 different EU countries.

What measures are favoring the circular bioeconomy in Croatia?

Circular bioeconomy is definitely being recognized as a key pathway for the sustainable and renewable future, and for that reason, all crucial elements are being included to all national strategic documents, such as energy strategy, climate and energy package, national development strategy and CAP.

What is the public perception of the bioeconomy?

So far, I feel that public perception of bioeconomy, especially in Croatia, is still marginal. Public should be more informed and involved. Strong focus should be set on dissemination of knowledge and support from all relevant stakeholders.

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Source: Il Bioeconomista, 2019-10-28.

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