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Issue 04/2018

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Events Nature always

Events Nature always finds the solution Bio-on inaugurated first plant for the production of special PHA bioplastics By Michael Thielen Bio-on (Bologna, Italy), a company that describes itself as an Intellectual Property Company (IPC) that supplies technologies to produce or use Polyhydroxyalkanoates- (PHAs) through licenses, officially inaugurated a production plant of its own during a ceremony on June 20 th . The new plant will produce PHB and PHBVV bioplastics for high added value niche markets such as the microbeads used in the cosmetics sector. All PHA bioplastics developed by Bio-on under the brand name Minerv are made from renewable plant sources with no competition with food supply chains. They guarantee the same thermo-mechanical properties as comparable conventional plastics with the advantage of being 100% ecosustainable and naturally biodegradable The new plant is located in Castel San Pietro Terme, near Bologna, Italy. The theme of the grand opening was “La natura trova sempre la soluzione” (Nature always finds the solution). In an impressive multimedia presentation, Bio-on’s Chairman and CEO Marco Astorri first showed to the more than 300 invited guests the shocking reality of marine pollution caused by plastic waste. Video clips showed birds on a picturesque Pacific atoll, dead from ingesting bottle tops and other litter they had mistakenly thought to be food. Astorri then showed a few ancient 1950s commercials and the famous scene from “The Graduate”, in which plastics are lauded as the material of the future, The further presentation focused on the use of microbeads in cosmetics: an exemplary case of plastic waste that is literally washed down the drain. These microbeads, which serve as thickeners or stabilisers in such widely used products as lipstick, lip gloss, mascara, eye-liner, nail polish, creams, shampoo, foam bath and even toothpaste, pollute the environment; once they are rinsed off after use, they become a permanent part of the natural cycle: they are swallowed by plankton in the rivers and seas and thus enter the food chain, to ultimately end up on our plates. The level of pollution is so serious that the USA was the first country to bring in a law (Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015) banning the use of oil-based polymers in body care products. Some countries, such as Canada, UK, Sweden and France, recently followed suit while others, such as Ireland, Netherlands, Italy, have announced they will do so, as stated in Bio-on’s press release accompanying the inauguration. This provided a convenient segue to introduce PHAs as a family or platform of biobased and biodegradable polyesters in general - and the Minerv PHAs which are to be produced in the new plant, in particular. The first product to be produced at the new plant will be Minerv Bio Cosmetics, the bioplastic microbeads for cosmetics designed to replace the oil-based and non-biodegradable plastic particles currently used Using Minerv Bio Cosmetics bioplastic in cosmetics products eliminates these pollutants because the micro particles of bioplastic are naturally biodegradable in water and, therefore, do not enter the food chain. What is more, the biopolymer developed at the Bio-on laboratories actually decomposes into a nutrient for some micro-organisms and plants present in nature. The benefit for the environment is therefore two-fold. In his presentation Marco Astorri went on to introduce Professor Jian Yu from the University of Hawaii in Manoa, with whom Bio-on has been working for 10 years on the development of their Minerv PHA products. And the cooperation will continue. “We have big and (still) secret plans for the future,” Marco Astorri said with a smile. The new plant is located on a plot measuring some 30,000 m 2 ; it has 3,700 m 2 covered space and 6,000 m 2 land for development. The current production capacity is 1,000 tonnes per year, rapidly expandable to 2,000 tonnes/a. The plant, managed by Bio-on Plants, the division responsible for production, future expansion and new plants, is equipped with the very latest technologies and the most advanced research laboratories. Here, over 20 researchers in the CNS division (Cosmetic, Nanomedicine & Smart Materials) can test new carbon sources from agricultural waste to produce new types of biodegradable bioplastic and increase the range of technologies offered by Bio-on. The company also demonstrates its focus on sustainability in its choice of site, opting to convert a former factory without occupying any new land. The overall investment in the production hub and new research laboratories is EUR 20 million. “We are very pleased because since March 2017, when the first stone was laid, we have kept to our schedule and kept the promises we made to the market,” says Marco Astorri. “Our technicians and partners have been incredibly reliable throughout the process.” “Like all complex industrial plants, the new production hub is running a series of tests before becoming fully operational in autumn. The entire production cycle is run from an innovative control room at the heart of the plant,” explains Riccardo Casoni, Bio-on Plants director, “and this is where the entire industrial process will be tested before production begins 24/7. The new production hub is also the headquarters of the Business Unit RAF (Recovery And Fermentation), which develops and optimises bioplastic fermentation and extraction processes to obtain the best possible product yield; and CNS (Cosmetic, Nanomedicine & Smart Materials), which uses cutting-edge scientific equipment to test new types of bioplastic and develop new applications. The areas of operation are Cosmetics, Nanomedicine, Biomedical, Nutraceuticals, Bioremediation, Organic Electronics and Advanced Materials. CNS laboratories are the base for over 20 researchers from various parts of the world and many different scientific disciplines, such as chemistry, physics, biology, pharmacy, 14 bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/18] Vol. 13

Save the date Events see page 10-11 for details materials engineering, biotechnologies, electronics, and mathematics with an average age of 30. In the meantime Bio-on announced that it has successfully completed the first test phase. So far, all tests have been successful and performed on schedule. “As announced during the inauguration, we expect to be fully operational by autumn” explained Riccardo Casoni, “and to be able to produce and to market as early as 2018 a quantity of PHAs micro powders of about 150 tonnes”. “Respecting the project deadlines and being able to increase the production is fundamental”, said Marco Astorri, “since it does not escape anyone that the new European directive on the reduction of pollution caused by traditional plastic, which the European Parliament will have to approve in September, will open a huge market for biodegradable plastics. And Bio-on has a unique competitive advantage since our bioplastic is 100 % biodegradable not only on land but also in water”. Marco Astorri opening the presentation In a separate meeting on the sidelines of the inauguration in June bioplastics MAGAZINE spoke to Diego Torresan, Business Development Manager of Bio-on. Asked about my introductory sentence of this article, Diego confirmed tha Bio-on is not the standard biopolymer producer. Their core business is and will continue to be related to the intellectual properties. So their main customers are companies that own the biomass, or plastic users that want to convert from oil-based to renewably based plastics or as a third group companies that want to buy the biomass and produce PHA for the plastic users. And the inauguration of the new plant - a reference plant - does not change this core business, as Diego emphasised. The products from the new plant - powders - will be used and sold as powders, mainly for these cosmetic applications or to do more research, “just like the polymers coming from the pilot plant that we are running since 2011”, Diego said. Apart from the cosmetics sector, Bio-on sees a lot of similar niche markets, such as nanomedical applications, industrial 3D-printing, and a lot of application in agriculture, e.g. for controlled release encapsulation and the like. Possible market segments can also be found in structural applications such as furniture, automotive parts or toys. Another interesting field of application the so-called bioremediation. bioplastics MAGAZINE reported in issue 04/2017 about Bioon’s revolutionary new technology to eliminate oil pollution in the sea within 3 weeks. Claudio Luti, President of Kartell (left) and Marco Astorri Grand Opening Ceremony and Party Another question concerned the abovementioned renewable plant sources with no competition with food supply chains. Diego explained that the sources for Minerv resins are agro-industrial co-products such as the molasses from sugar cane, crude glycerol from the biodiesel production or co-products from dates to name just a few. Concerning potential pressure from shareholders Diego said that the company that was founded and owned by Marco Astorri and Guy Cicognani only sold 10% of the company to shareholdes in 2014. Today 30% is owned by shareholders, so there is no pressure influencing any decisions. The new plant (Photo:Bio-on) bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/18] Vol. 13 15

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