PROESA™ Technology: Advanced Biorefinery Platform in Italy

Context of Transport Climate Action 

According to the International Energy Agency, the transport sector is responsible for approximately one quarter of the global energy-related CO2eq emission globally. Relevant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are likely to increase in forthcoming years in conjunction with increasing demand in developing countries. It is therefore urgent to identify sustainable solutions to reduce the impact of transport sector on the environment and global warming.

Advanced biofuels, that is those biofuels produced using residual biomass and energy crops which are not in competition with food, are able to reduce significantly the GHG emissions – in some cases up to 90% – compared to fossil fuels. They also represent a great opportunity to address the challenge of increasing transport emissions in a sustainable way while at the same time providing additional positive impacts, e.g. green jobs, better use of abandoned/marginal lands, rehabilitation of brown field sites , etc.

Advanced biofuels are conceived as first step towards the deployment of integrated bio-refineries for the production of (advanced) biofuels and bio-chemicals able to replace conventional fossil-based chemicals, hence contributing further to reduce the use of fossil resources.

PROESA™ is a unique technology platform using lingo-cellulosic (non food) sources. Sugars obtained through PROESA™ can be used to produce a wide variety of “bio” products, such as biofuels (e.g. bioethanol) and other biochemical products, leading the way towards the bio-refinery of the future.

Description

PROESA™ belongs to the so-called “second-generation” bio fuel technologies which allow the use of the sugars present in lingo-cellulosic biomass to be converted into fuel (ethanol) and other chemicals with, up to 90% lower greenhouse gas emissions if compared to fossil fuel-based products.

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The process started in 2006 is the result of an investment of over 150 million Euros by Biochemtex.

The PROESA™ technology is designed to use non-food lingo-cellulosic biomass, such as wheat straw, rice straw and sugarcane residue..

In the first phase of the PROESA™ process the biomass is subjected to high temperatures and pressures. As biomass consists of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, sugars are released from the the cellulose and the hemicellulose in the plants using enzymes and the unique production technology., These sugars are converted into ethanol by fermentation and the lignin is used as energy in the production process.

The use of residual biomasses, or dedicated low input energy crops, as feedstock, significantly helps reduce the overall emissions and the result is a biofuel that has 90% lower than gasoline.

Implementation

Based on a 2012 strategic partnership between Novozymes – a world leader in the enzymes industry – and Beta Renewables -a joint venture between Biochemtex and the U.S. fund TPG (Texas Pacific Group), which owns the PROESA™ technology, the world’s first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol facility was built up and put in operation in Italy (Crescentino) in 2013.

The Crescentino plant, uses the PROESA™ technology, and is the first plant in the world to be designed and built to produce bioethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops at commercial scale using enzymatic conversion. It has a capacity of 50 million liters/year.

The Crescentino facility is a multi-feedstock cellulosic facility and can handle agricultural residues from a broad variety of crops including wheat and rice straw. Furthermore, the plant uses energy crops like arundo donax (also known as giant cane) as feedstock. The arundo donax is a high yield energy crop that can be grown on marginal lands helping to ensure an extra income for the local farmers both now and in the future.

Further to cellulosic ethanol production, the plant uses by-products (lignin together with the biogas derived from the processes), to generate enough power and heat to meet the facility’s energy needs and any excess green electricity is sold into the local grid.

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Benefits

Cellulosic ethanol can be a major source of sustainable energy. The feedstock utilized at the Crescentino plant is readily and sustainably available, and it is estimated that cellulosic ethanol will reduce CO2 emissions by 90% compared to petroleum-based fuels. Cellulosic ethanol as produced on the Crescentino biofuel facility is thus the first step towards a cleaner world that is not dependent upon shrinking oil reserves.

Furthermore, the industrial production carried out in the plant creates no waste and recycles 100% of its water. In addition, the facility produces 13 MW of electricity annually, making it is entirely self-sufficient in its own energy consumption.

The Crescentino plant is located in a rural area that has suffered from low levels of economic activity and job losses due to urbanization and consolidation in agriculture. Since biomass is produced and converted into bioethanol locally, the plant delivers much needed local jobs and a boost to economic development while at the same time paving the way for a fossil-free future.

Lastly, no land is taken away from food use as the residual biomass or energy crops used in the plant are grown on marginal or abandoned land.

Potential for scaling up 

Ethanol has emerged as the leading renewable fuel for the transportation sector. The market of more than 80 billion litres per year is led globally by the USA and Brazil.

Recently, sustainability certification became a new norm in the industry, as well as a prerequisite for market access and thus it is likely that only truly sustainable biofuels (e.g. advanced biofuels) will be able to be used and promoted in the future.

However today, the capacity for the production of advanced biofuels is still limited despite the huge potential for wide-scale deployment of advanced biofuels in forthcoming years. Cellulosic (advanced) bioethanol is proving to be the most promising and truly advanced solution available on the market today and many projects are underway in various part of the world.

This is one of the few truly sustainable biofuels that can be produced at industrial scale, as proven with this technology. The business case is also becoming clear. Displacing 4% of EU gasoline consumption with cellulosic ethanol would save 4B€/y on EU import bill of crude oil, bring 4,4B€/y as income for farmers and the 28B€ investment would create 100,000 new jobs while saving 33Mtonn/y in GHG emissions.

However, in order to allow large scale deployment of advanced biofuels and biorefineries, it is urgent to adopt the right financial and regulatory measures. From regulatory perspective, firm, long-term, consistent global and regional strategies with clear, ambitious and stable targets on the promotion and use of advanced biofuels is needed to give certainty to investors and minimize risks associated with new market developments.

It is also necessary to reduce the investment risk associated with deployment of new technologies by mobilizing grants for flagship (i.e first of its kind) investments and loan guarantees early adopters i.e. 2nd, 3rd, etc plants.

PROJECT INFORMATION

Location:

Europe-Italy

Start:

2011

Finish:

2013, end of construction, up and running now

Tags:

Organizer/s:

Biochemtex, BetaRenewables

Contact/s:

Sandro Cobror Sandro.cobror@gruppomg.com

“BioCrescentino is truly the beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels and the bio-economy in general. This plant that turns agricultural waste into millions of liters of low-carbon fuel proves that cellulosic ethanol is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialisation.”
-Sebastian Søderberg,
Vice President Biomass Conversion, Novozymes.