Exclusive Italian technology for an innovative range of products from renewable sources

The ribbon was cut today at the first of the Matrìca green chemistry plants, the 50/50 joint venture between Versalis (Eni) and Novamont. First conceived back in 2011 with the objective of converting the petrochemical plant at Porto Torres into one of the most innovative, integrated green chemistry complexes in the world, the project today celebrates the start-up of production with high added value using raw materials from vegetable renewable sources.

Opening ceremony

Daniele Ferrari, Chairman, and Catia Bastioli, Managing Director of Matrìca, today inaugurated the plant converting vegetable oils into monomers and intermediates, the base products for downstream production of more complex bio-products. In the coming months another two plants being built at the new Matrìca complex will come on-stream; at these two plants, monomers and intermediates will be transformed into extensor oils for the tyre industry and into a raft of innovative products with high added value, such as bases for bio-lubricants, plasticizers for polymers and products for cosmetic formulations.
Representing a global investment of about 180 million Euro, the three plants will produce a total capacity of bio-products of approximately 70 thousand tons per year.

The Matrìca products are the fruit of an innovative integration between agriculture and industry, combining renewability, sustainability and biodegradability. They provide the highest performance levels required for formulation and production of bio-plastics, bio-lubricants, products for household care and personal and health care, plant protection, additives for the rubber and plastics industry, food fragrances.

"We have completed a cutting-edge project in record time, driven forward by a strong commitment to research and design of industrial facilities representing excellence in the global chemical industry. The perfect synthesis of the values that its two partners bring, Matrìca will make an important contribution to innovation, thereby enhancing competitiveness of the Italian chemical industry, creating a solid technological platform capable of catalyzing new projects in a context of long-term sustainability and integration with the local community," said Daniele Ferrari, CEO Versalis (Eni) and Matrìca Chairman.

"Versalis has been following a route for some years now that today sees it in the forefront of chemistry based on renewable sources. Our business model - added Daniele Ferrari - is all about enhancing our internal technological and engineering capabilities and product synergies with traditional chemistry, networking with international partners of excellence, so that chemistry based on renewable sources can fully develop its potential for innovation, helping to renew and grow an industry that is strategic for our country."

"The first Matrìca plant that we are inaugurating today, brought about by the strategic partnership between Novamont and Versalis, uses a proprietary technology radically different from all other existing technologies:  it does not use ozone in the vegetable oil oxidative scission reaction and allows us to produce intermediates known as azelaic acid and pelargonic acid, as well as new proprietary products, through a safe process with low environmental impact. This result represents a key step in a process that began more than 20 years ago with a stubborn group of researchers working in the bioplastics sector and which is leading to the creation here in Sardinia of the first third-generation integrated biorefinery and the conversion of other sites in Italy," said Catia Bastioli, Managing Director of Novamont and Matrìca

"This moment is the starting point of a challenge that I hope will see the local area as an experimental laboratory for a new development model that will harmoniously combine industry, agriculture, environment, technological innovation, culture, enhancing the immense wealth of human resources, beauty, technical qualities and biodiversity that this island and the whole Italy represent".

The project

Porto Torres, 16 June 2014 - In May 2011 the Italian government, the public institutions of Sardinia, the trade unions, Novamont and Eni (with its subsidiaries Versalis, Syndial and Enipower) signed a "Memorandum of understanding for Green Chemistry in Porto Torres", which was the starting point for a major project for regeneration of the Porto Torres industrial site and the creation of an highly innovative and integrated production system with strong links to the local area. This was the origin of Matrìca, a 50/50 joint venture between Versalis (Eni) and Novamont.

The first project installations have required investment of approx. € 180 million to date. An average of 400 workers per day from some 36 subcontracting firms were employed on the construction sites, though occasionally the figure was over 700.

Today Matrìca has approx. 120 employees, expected to reach 145 by year end, thus respecting the commitments undertaken in the project presentation phase. The first Matrìca-branded renewable source products will be used for applications in bioplastics, bio-lubricants (hydraulic and engine oils), additives for rubber and polymers (extender oils and plasticizers), and in agriculture and personal care.

Matrìca opened its Research Centre in 2012. Including an analytical laboratory and seven pilot plants, it covers an area of over 3,500 square metres.

The pilot plants are a fundamental feature of the research centre, enabling it to continue process development of the new technologies implemented and ever more advanced products, while at the same time producing samples for marketing tests. The pilot plants will also play a key role in scale-up of the various process phases.

The Centre operates in synergy with the Novamont research centres, where the technologies were first created, and those of Versalis in specific sectors of interest, and in collaboration with leading national and international institutes as well as the research system of the Sardinia region.

The project also includes Novamont-led experimentation of local agricultural crops from which the raw material to feed the Matrìca plants may be obtained: some 400 hectares of thistle are currently being grown. Other experiments with dry oil seed crops of potential industrial interest are underway on small lots of land.

The Matrìca project recently obtained a 12-year, €70 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) in consideration of its innovative profile, environmental sustainability and positive impact on the local area.

Products

Matrìca's renewable-based products are derived from innovative and proprietary Italian technology for the conversion of vegetable oils. A low environmental impact oxidation process splits vegetable oils into mono- and dicarboxylic acids of great interest for applications in many sectors. These products are also an important resource inside the Matrìca production chain because they constitute the raw material used to produce a broad and diversified range of esters.

On account of their properties and potential applications, azeliac acid and pelargonic acid are the acids of greatest interest.

Azelaic acid, of the dicarboxylic acid family, constitutes an excellent base for special plasticizers and esters destined for the lubricants sector, while it is also used in personal care products and pharmaceuticals. It is also an important monomer for the production of bioplastics.

Belonging to the monocarboxylic acid family, pelargonic acid is the only broad-spectrum herbicide of natural origin. This mono-acid is also an ideal raw material for numerous applications in cosmetics, personal care products, detergents, food fragrances and the synthesis of bio-lubricants.

In addition to azelaic and pelargonic acids, a mixture of C5-C9 linear monocarboxylic acids is used mainly in the production of synthetic esters for high performance lubricants that maintain excellent fluidity at extreme temperatures, an essential characteristic for applications in special industrial sectors and in aeronautics.

Finally, the vegetable oil transformation process produces a mixture of saturated fatty acids and high purity glycerin, products which are currently used in a great many sectors, such as detergents, plasticizers, etc.

The most important products of the esterification plant are bio extender oils, the bases for bio-lubricants and plasticizers.

The extender oils have been developed specifically for the tyre industry and substitute all or part of the fossil-origin extender oils, improving tyre grip on wet asphalt and rolling resistance, thus reducing fuel consumption. There are two main benefits: sustainability of tyre production and better energy-saving performance of tyres in use.

The bases for bio-lubricants have been developed specifically for the strictest application requirements in the automotive, agricultural and aero-naval industries. Renewable source materials and their biodegradability make them ideal for use in systems subject to micro dispersion in delicate natural habitats, the sea for instance.

Matrìca plasticizers offer a non-toxic, sustainable and high performance alternative to traditional plasticizers (phthalates). These are plasticizers with high molecular weight and low release that provide very high thermal stability while assuring excellent plasticization.


The Matrìca project: the milestones


26 May 2011: Signature of the "Memorandum of understanding for Green Chemistry in Porto Torres" (Office of the Prime Minister; Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea Territories; Ministry of Labour and Social Policies; Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forest Policies; Ministry of Economic Development; Sardinia Region; Sassari Province; Municipalities of Alghero, Porto Torres and Sassari; Novamont; Eni, Polimeri Europa (now Versalis), Syndial and Enipower; Cgil, Cisl, Uil, Ugl, Filctem, Femca, Uilcem and Ugl Chimici (trade unions)

13 June 2011: Constitution of a 50/50 joint venture between Novamont and Polimeri Europa (now Versalis, Eni)

23 December 2011: The Sardinia Region approves the Environmental Impact Assessment entitled "Phase I, Installations for production of monomers and biodegradable lubricants from natural vegetable oils"

13 February 2012: Inauguration of the Matrìca Research Centre in Porto Torres. Signing of the Framework Convention with research institutions, the CNR and the universities of Cagliari and Sassari

21 February 2012: Sassari Province issues the Integrated Environmental Authorisation (AIA)

9 July 2012: Cornerstone laid for construction of the first Matrìca plant

18 December 2012: Ceremony for presentation of the work site progress report

3 July 2013: Signature of the memorandum of understanding with the Sardinia Coldiretti on agricultural production by Matrìca

16 June 2014: Inauguration of Matrìca's first green chemistry plant


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