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Beta Renewables Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefinery, Crescentino, Italy




Key Data


In April 2011, PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G) began the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy. The Creswell (Vercelli) biorefinery is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world.

It will have an annual production capacity of about 13 million gallons - equivalent to 50 million litres, or 45,000t.

The plant will produce second generation bio-ethanol from variable ligno-cellulosic biomass and Arundo donax (giant cane) that is not suitable for consumption. The facility is scheduled to become fully operational in mid-2012.

The project is estimated to cost €110m ($159m). It will generate about 100 direct jobs and create indirect jobs 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 will invest €250m into the new company, which will license Chemtex's PROESA technology to markets across the world.

M&G will hold majority stake in Beta Renewables. As part of the joint venture agreement, M&G will transfer the ownership of its pilot plant in Tortona, Italy, and the Crescentino plant to Beta Renewables.

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 will use non-food biomass, which will be sourced from the vicinity of the project site.

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

M&G acquired about 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 about 80,000m² of warehouses.

The ethanol biorefinery will also include a power plant, generating about 10MW of electricity and steam for the plant by burning lignin, a biomass co-product produced during the ethanol production. Excess electricity will be supplied to Italy's power grid.

The plant will also include laboratories and offices. Raw materials will be supplied by road and the bio-ethanol produced transferred by rail.

Chemtex's €120m technology used at the biorefinery

The Crescentino plant will use a patented process technology called PROESA, which was developed by Chemtex. The development took five years to complete and required an investment of €120m. It involved development of a complete crop-to-ethanol value chain.

"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 the sugars. The final stage is the separation of ethanol via distillation. The purification involves treatment of the ethanol containing beer through resins. Lignin is separated by removing excess water through filtration.

The plant will be a sustainable development through its use of Arundo donax, which has high yields on marginal and unproductive lands and reduces carbon dioxide. Lignin, produced as a by-product, will be 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, a subsidiary of Chemtex, is the EPC contractor for the project on a lump-sum basis. The PROESA technology was developed by the Biolyfe consortium, which will support the project.

The partners involved in Biolyfe are 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 are the subcontractors. The project is 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 about 1.5Mt of bio-ethanol by then in Italy alone.

The Creswell (Vercelli) biorefinery is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world.
Construction of the ethanol plant began in April 2011.
R&D centre for development of chemicals from renewable resources.
The analytical and fermentation laboratories at the Chemtex pilot plant.
Pre-treatment and high-solid enzymatic hydrolysis facilities.
The cellulosic ethanol plant will mainly use Arundo donax as feedstock.
The plant will produce 13 million gallons of bioethanol.
Pro.E.Sa technology was developed over five years.