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Innovative biomaterials production from wine industry waste

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VegeaTextile (Innovative biomaterials production from wine industry waste)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2019-12-31

Vegea is an innovative start-up based in Northern Italy which is proposing a breakthrough innovation that will address and solve a series of industrial and environmental issues. Vegea already set-up and demonstrated at laboratory scale a novel and green process to transform wine industry waste, the grape marc, into a low-impact, cruelty-free leather for fashion, furniture, automotive and packaging applications.

Fashion industry (including leather industry) is one of the most polluting industries in the entire world today in terms of overexploitation of natural resources, use of toxic substances, hazardous waste production, carbon emissions and work-related diseases. VegeaTextile is addressing two main issues, working at both sides of its value chain. The first is the proposition of a new bio-based and low- environmental impact material as a green and cruelty free alternative to animal and synthetic leather. The second issue addressed, is to create a value chain for the grape marc, which is currently considered as a waste, with growing problems for its disposal: indeed grape marc is currently burnt, with the production of greenhouse gases. Considering the increasing wine production worldwide, the disposal of grape marc, which is currently produced at about 7 million tons per year worldwide, is a major environmental concern.

VegeaTextile transforms a waste, the grape marc, into a bio-based textile, which has physical, mechanical and aesthetic characteristics equivalent to both animal and synthetic leather. With our solution we want to address the issue of the increasing demand of the textile industry from its stakeholders, not only in the fashion sector but also in the automotive and furniture, for new technical solutions with a dedicated focus on increasing the sustainability. Vegea’s strategy is, first of all, to use as a feedstock a raw material which is considered a waste and doesn’t have a proper value chain, following the concept of circular economy. The overall increase in sustainability in respect to conventional leather production processes is substantial, thanks both to the renewable nature of the feedstock, which is a vegetable then it consumes CO2 for growing, and to the production process, which is considerably less polluting than the conventional ones.

The first objective of the VegeaTextile project is to industrialize the leather production on a commercial scale, by confirming all the assumptions of increased sustainability that were made on laboratory scale. At the same time, project activities will need to ensure that VegeaTextile will be competitive against animal and synthetic leather, both in terms of technical features and production cost.
The second main objective of this project is to support Vegea in creating a market for VegeaTextile, by carrying out dissemination, communication and exploitation activities that may lead to the development of a competitive and effective business.
All the key process steps bringing the grape marc to the final VegeaTextile leather product have been thoroughly tested and reproduced at industrialized scale. The plant that will be used to purify the grape marc to transform it into a flour, one of the two main components of the final polymeric compound coating of the textile, is being designed and engineered, in collaboration with the selected subcontractor, and is being assembled.
The activities with the other two key subcontractors, performing respectively the polymerization of the grape seed oil (the second main component of the coating) and the spreading and drying of the coating to produce the leather, have run in parallel. Several commercial scale testing of leather production have been carried out, testing different colors and technical features, following indication from potential customers.

In parallel with the testing at scaled-up size of the production process, a dedicated activity has been promoted to further improve the sustainability pattern of VegeaTextile, by testing the replacement of all the other chemicals and components using to produce the leather with bio-sourced alternative solutions, performing technical and economic evaluations.

The other main activity was linked to the business development of Vegea and its VegeaTextile product. Vegea team participated to several events, among conferences, workshops and stakeholder meetings, where the project concept and activities were disseminated in order to create new business opportunities. At the same time, several request connections came from different channels, following the press coverage that Vegea had received in the past: the management of those requests, with follow- ups leading to NDA signing and sample preparation has allowed Vegea to create a wide coverage of potential customers in several sectors (packaging, clothing, automotive) and also to better understand the technical features requested for the leather in the different applications.

Finally, to further strengthen its innovation pattern, a strategy for new patenting covering different aspects of VegeaTextile production process has been conceived, by analyzing prior arts and identifying the most promising fields of action.
VegeaTextile offers a new solution to improve the sustainability of the leather goods industry, by implementing the use of low value agricultural wastes for producing an innovative bio-based material. This approach is highly innovative in respect to the conventional leather production industries, that employ either animal skins or oil derived compounds as starting materials. VegeaTextile will then, respectively, be a vegan and animal cruelty free material, in respect to animal leather, and a low carbon foot print material, in respect to synthetic leather.
Seeing it from the top side, VegeaTextile creates also a new value chain for agricultural wastes, such as the grape marc, which is usually burnt or used as a low added value fertilizer. From 26 billion liters of wine produced worldwide each year, we can get almost 7 billion kg of grape marc to potentially produce 2.6 billion square meters of VegeaTextile, every year. Italy, together with Spain and France, is one of the major wine producers (Italy alone produces the 18% of the global wine production), hence the perfect country where to develop VegeaTextile project. In the next 5 years we aim to transform one tenth of the global leather production into VegeaTextile production by licensing the technology to the companies that are currently working in the animal and synthetic leather goods production.
The development of VegeaTextile will have a huge societal impact, by creating new jobs opportunities and giving an impulse to the conversion of the whole textile industry towards the implementation of more sustainable solutions.
VegeaTextile produced sample
VegeaTextile commercial scale first production testing