Novamont continues to invest in bioplastics and, in particular, in the two pillars of flexible film and biodegradable catering, in which, in Italy, Mater-Bi has been confirmed as the benchmark material. Investments involve both the integrated biorefinery in Terni, in Umbria, for which € 20 million have already been allocated as well as new biorefineries for monomers from plants, which should be established in Caserta, near Naples.
Polimerica.eu spoke with Alessandro Ferlito, the Sales Director at Novamont, about the company’s present and future projects.
Where are you with the integrated biorefinery project?
We already completed a portion of the forecast investments and we will finish works by the end of the year. Over the past three years, we invested € 30 million in Terni to build new polymerization lines and biopolyester plants, which will increase the plant’s overall production capacity to 60 thousand tons per year. Part of the new capacity is designated for the production of polyester from renewable sources, Origo-Bi, developed in our research laboratories. The polyester will not be sold as a new biopolymer; rather it will be used to improve the performance of Mater-Bi.
For total upstream integration, you lack only the monomer, which you have plans for in the Region of Campania.
Yes, we are working on a project for a new plant for the production of monomers from vegetable oils that should be built in Caserta, and which will further increase the content of renewable raw materials, while at the same time improving the performance characteristics of Mater-bi grades. To this end, we have filed a request to access a program contract from the Region of Campania for the industrial area in San Marco Evangelista. If everything proceeds as forecast, works could begin within the end of the year. At least 18 to 24 months are needed before actual production from the lines. There are the necessary technical times.
How much do you forecast investing in Caserta plant?
The project calls for an overall investment of almost € 50 million. When it enters production, it will be capable of supplying our plants in Terni with a significant part of their demand for raw materials for the biopolyester supply chain. In the mean time, we are continuing research into the agricultural cultivations capable of guaranteeing better yields. And here, I would like to pop a bubble in the myth that bioplastics is a dangerous competitor to human food sources. In comparison to biofuels, the volumes involved are minimal and certainly do not risk eliminating precious resources for the growth of food. Rather the opposite, we expect to have a positive impact on the farming market.
Mater-bi is also used to produce shopping bags. How do you see the evolution of this market application given the limitations that should – and I emphasize should – become regulations in Italy over the next year?
In terms of regulations, we are observing the evolution of the situation. In the meantime, we are working with the supermarket industry to provide, today, an alternative to the disposable plastic bag, without realistically believing that we will reach total replacement. However, I don’t believe that this is the final objective of the lawmakers, who are targeting a reduction in use by getting the consumer used to adopting alternative solutions. The fact remains that the LOD is already taking this route. For example, Unicoop Firenze will completely replace the plastic shopping bags with bio-shopping bags made from Mater-bi at all of its points of sale starting from 29 May. After their initial use, the biodegradable bags can be reused for the separate collection of wet waste.
How was the market for bioplastics in 2008?
It was in line with our forecast, without significant variation from the average mid-term trend. In part, this is due to the fact that the market is highly noncyclical. In fact, our production is mostly designated for the production of bags for separate wet waste collection, the consumption of which does not directly feel the effects of the recession. Nor in terms of packaging have we found a slowdown in our current projects, and we continue to work with the LOD in a number innovating areas. As of today, we have not felt a heavy impact of crisis in terms of sales, and we have benefited, as has the entire market, from the reduction of the raw materials costs.
Source: Polimerica.eu, 2009-06-08.