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Green chemistry conquers ENEA

The first platform for the development of new biorefining techniques is established in Basilicata.

by Eni Staff
4 min read
byEni Staff
4 min read

10 million for research at Trisaia

ENEA won the tender held by the Basilicata Region under the European Regional Development Fund. The total investment of 10 million euros, co-financed by the Region and ENEA, will make it possible to strengthen applied research activities started by the ENEA Bioenergy and Green Chemistry Division. The aim is to spread new techniques for energy production from renewable and bioproducts through the PIBE platform, led by Giacobbe Braccio, to innovative and particularly important sectors, contributing to the transition process to a decarbonized economy based on the sustainable use of natural resources.

Innovative biolubricants

The testing platform is unique in Europe and will be open to companies operating in the chemical, agricultural product processing, fuel and fossil fuel sectors to allow them to develop new business activities that could be immediately be launched on international markets. In particular, the intention is to develop innovative processes in the production of biolubricants, using renewable raw materials and second-generation sugars (which are extracted from biomass from the residue of agricultural activities and not from dedicated cultivation) and using materials such as lignocellulose, or products such as Biofuels and gases with high energy content and low content of contaminants, such as biomethane and syngas. As far as biolubricants are concerned, the aim is to optimise the yield of current production techniques which mainly use sunflower and rapeseed to produce oils and which, mixed in varying amounts with oils of fossil origin, are used in numerous industrial processes. Since oilseeds are renewable crops, they do not have significant negative impact on soil use, on the contrary, they contribute to maintaining a high level of organic matter in soil.

Bioethanol generations

A second area of ​​research focus for the ENEA Trisaia platform is bioethanol. Bioethanol is currently produced by transforming biomass with various types of yeast, the resulting carbon dioxide emitted during the production and combustion of bioethanol is reabsorbed by the plants during biomass reformation. This is first generation bioethanol, essentially produced using corn (especially in the United States) and sugar cane (in Brazil) to make lubricated gasoline and ethanol for petrol engines. The real challenge is to produce second generation bioethanol. How? By creating it from the fermentation of glucose that is found in lignocellulose, through a process that creates cellulose from which, in turn, sugars are made. Being able to produce ethanol from this material would have a very positive impact on the environment. In addition to the advantages from closing the carbon dioxide circle, second generation bioethanol does not require dedicated cultivation (using soil that could be used for crops destined for human or animal consumption) using the crops from the first generation production.
However, the production process for second generation bioethanol is much more complex, requiring various preparation phases before the glucose can be obtained from the cellulose and then having to be fermented by yeast.

Biomethane and syngas

Finally, in terms of biomethane and syngas, the PIBE platform aims to develop new and more efficient biogas purification techniques from fermentation, in the absence of oxygen with plant or animal residues (by-products and waste from agricultural and zootechnical activities and the organic part of municipal solid waste). Biomethane is already currently produced with the purification of biogas, whose methane rate is increased from 50-55% to at least 95%, to make it available for the usual thermal uses. The production of syngas requires more complex processes, which the Trisaia platform is aiming to research through the production of synthesis gas with the high temperature gasification of organic materials. Currently, various technologies are used, but none of these are fully satisfactory due to remaining residues in the produced gas or lack of process efficiency. This is a research sector still to be fully explored and one which could have significant results.