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FIRST2RUN Report Summary

Project ID: 669029
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.2.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FIRST2RUN (Flagship demonstration of an integrated biorefinery for dry crops sustainable exploitation towards biobased materials production)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The route towards the assessment of virtuous value chains based on the valorisation of underutilised crops needs a consistent and coordinated effort for overcoming some of the technological, political and commercial barriers that continue threatening the implementation of the biobased economy at a wider scale. Many pilot scale examples already exist at the medium scale at EU level in realising biorefineries and many efforts have been spent in studying and developing high added value products by valorising currently underexploited agro-industrial resources; nevertheless the need for Europe is to demonstrate, on the large scale, the integration of processes for the production of biobased monomers and derived biobased materials by increasing processes yield and selectivity, reducing energy requirements, optimizing the recovery of by- and co-products from the different process steps (biomass production and conversion, upstream and downstream processes towards biobased monomers production, polymerization processes), exploiting the synergy with the agricultural sector and leveraging investments at industrial scale through the reconversion of old industrial sites for the implementation of the targeted biobased processes. FIRST2RUN project intends to propose an answer to the aforementioned challenge, demonstrating (TRL8) the techno, economical and environmental sustainability at industrial scale of a first-of-kind value chain where low input and underutilized oil crops (i.e. cardoon) grown in arid and/or marginal lands and not in competition with food or feed, are exploited for the extraction of vegetable oils to be further converted into bio-monomers (mainly pelargonic and azelaic acids) and esters that will be applied in the formulation of bioproducts (biolubricants, cosmetics, bioplastics). By and co-products from the process will be valorised both for energy, feed for animals and added value chemicals productions in order to increase the sustainability of the value chain. Standardization, certification and dissemination activities will support the project in relation to increased marketability as well as social acceptability of developed biobased products in view of their penetration in the market.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Within the first 18 months of the project, 600 ha of cardoon crop have been established in marginal lands in Sardinia through the involvement of local farmers and an optimized low-input protocol for the crop cultivation has been set-up and transferred to farmers through specific training sessions. Moreover a new prototype for the cardoon harvesting has been developed through the adaptation of an existing machine and successfully tested overcoming the accessibility problems related to the presence stones typical of Sardinian marginal lands. An integrated mechanical and chemical process of seeds crushing has been tested at pilot scale and optimal protocol defined enabling the obtaining of vegetable oil suitable for subsequent chemical treatment and a panel that has been successfully validated as feed for animals. Catalysts formulation, protocol for the conversion of vegetable oil into building blocks (i.e., azelaic and pelargonic acid) and of further conversion of building blocks into biobased esters of commercial interest have been set-up and validated at pilot scale.
First trials at large scale have been carried out at partial load at Matrica premises in Porto Torres. Strategies for large scale plant optimization have been designed and implemented in the different sections (upstream and downstream) of the flagship plants.
Methodology to carry out the Life Cycle analysis and social impact evaluation has been defined and shared in a dedicated workshop and a preliminary analysis of the certification schemes suitable to be applied to the First2Run biorefinery has been conducted. Dialogue with institutions and key actors in the value chain has been fostered in order to promote the logic of “incremental reduced innovation” through which Sardinia Region can successfully take up the challenge of the bioeconomy, converting the green chemicals sector in an opportunity for its local development. First2Run project and related biorefinery model have been promoted at 21 conferences, workshops, seminars and exhibitions at national and international level targeting different stakeholders group: institutions (such as Sardina Region and EC), farmers, potential customers of developed biobased products, RTOs and universities.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The following innovations have been developed and tested in the period: i) a new prototype for cardoon harvesting overcoming the accessibility problems related to the presence stones typical of Sardinian marginal lands ii) a low-input protocol for cardoon cultivation iii) a mechanical and chemical process for the extraction of vegetable oil from cardoon seeds enabling in parallel the obtaining of a seed panel suitable for its application as feed for animals iv) formulation of new catalysts with low environmental impact to be applied for the conversion of vegetable oil into building blocks, i.e. pelargonic and azelaic acid v)design of an innovative thermal power plant based on the valorisation of lignocellulosic residues from cardoon biomass with increased efficiency and reduced need for maintenance vi) formulation of innovative pelargonate esters to be applied into biolubricants and cosmetic products. Positive impacts on the local economy has been generated both in the agricultural and industrial sector. In particular, a framework agreement has been established with farmers’ association in order to set-up a win-win cooperation model with local farmers based on the valorisation of the local territory and the enhancement of already existing competences and skills. In parallel an old fossil based industrial plant in Porto Torres has been reconverted and further optimized to meet the scope of the biorefinery as well as the targeted productivity and energy efficiency, generating new technical skills in the green chemistry sector for Matrica workers.
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