Beta Renewables Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefinery, Crescentino, Italy

In April 2011, PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G) began construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy. The Creswell (Vercelli) biorefinery is the first of its kind in the world. It has an annual production capacity of approximately 75 million litres.

The plant produces second-generation bio-ethanol from variable ligno-cellulosic biomass and Arundo donax (giant cane) that is not suitable for consumption. The facility was officially opened in October 2013.

The total cost of the project was €150m ($203.6m). It generated roughly 100 direct jobs and 200 indirect positions in the local community.

In October 2011, M&G, through its subsidiary Chemtex, formed a joint venture with TPG Capital and TPG Biotech to establish a new company, called Beta Renewables. M&G and TPG invested €250m in the new company, which licenses Chemtex's PROESA technology to markets across the world.

M&G holds majority stake in Beta Renewables and, as part of the joint venture agreement, transferred the ownership of its pilot plant in Tortona, Italy, and the Crescentino plant to Beta Renewables. Novozymes acquired a 10% stake in Beta Renewables in 2012.

Non-food biomass feedstock and design of the Italian ethanol biorefinery

"In April 2011, PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G) began the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy."

Unlike conventional bio-ethanol, the M&G plant uses non-food biomass, which is sourced from the vicinity of the project site.

The main feedstock for the biorefinery is Arundo donax, though the plant can also use other local agricultural residues such as rice husks, corn stovers and wheat stalks. Novozymes supplies enzymes for the M&G plant.

M&G acquired around 140,000m² of the ex-Teksid industrial complex from Infrastrutture Logistica Veneto Orientale (the Lucefin Group) for the biorefinery. Infrastructure at the Crescentino site includes approximately 80,000m² of warehouses.

The ethanol biorefinery also comprises a power plant, generating 13MW of electricity and steam for by burning lignin, a biomass co-product produced during ethanol production. Excess electricity is supplied to Italy's power grid.

The plant also includes laboratories and offices. Raw materials are supplied by road and the bio-ethanol produced is transferred by rail.

Chemtex's €150m technology used at the biorefinery

The Crescentino plant uses a patented process technology called PROESA, which was developed by Chemtex. The development took five years to complete and required an investment of €150m. It involved development of a complete crop-to-ethanol value chain. The PROESA technology helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 90% compared to fossil fuels.

"In October 2011, M&G, through its subsidiary Chemtex, formed a joint venture with TPG Capital and TPG Biotech to establish a new company, called Beta Renewables."

The technology converts selected ligno-cellulosic material into bio-ethanol in a sustainable manner. The PROESA process was tested and produced on a pilot scale at a 3,000m² R&D and technology centre of Chemtex in Rivalta, Italy. This project represents the industrial scale-up of the PROESA technology. The production of ethanol involves four stages. The first stage is the pre-treatment of the biomass to break it into pulp at microscopic level, separating it into lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose.

The second stage, known as saccharification, involves enzymatic hydrolysis of the C5 and C6 sugars. The third stage is the fermentation process to produce ethanol from sugars. The final stage is the separation of ethanol via distillation. The purification involves treatment of ethanol containing beer through resins. Lignin is separated by removing excess water through filtration.

The plant is a sustainable development through its uses of Arundo donax, which has high yields on marginal and unproductive lands and reduces carbon dioxide. Produced as a by-product, lignin is used as a fuel for power generation to avoid waste.

The company also plans to transfer the process technology to one of its existing first-generation bio-ethanol plants, which has a production capacity of 100,000t a year.

Contractors involved with the Crescentino plant

Chemtex Italia is a subsidiary of Chemtex, and was the EPC contractor for the project on a lump-sum basis. The PROESA technology was developed by the Biolyfe consortium, which supported the project.

Partners involved in Biolyfe were Novozymes (enzyme cocktail), WIP Renewable Energies (dissemination), ENEA (pre-treatment), Lund University (micro-organism fermentation), Agriconsulting (biomass), Inbicon Dong (viscosity reduction) and IUS (environmental and architectural consultant).

ETA Florence Renewable Energies, Taurus Energy and IFEU were the subcontractors. The project was also supported by Politecnico di Torino, Regione Piemonte.

Market growth for renewable fuel and resources

The European Union has committed to use at least 10% of the motor fuel produced from renewable resources by 2020. The derivative will result in a demand for around 1.5Mt of bio-ethanol by then in Italy alone.