The Operations Division manages the pilot plants and labs, in which all experimental work for the Center is carried out.
The pilot units allow to validate processes developed at lab scale and to plan the correct scale-up to industrial size.
The main pilot plant is dedicated to production of simple C5 and C6 second generation sugars via PROESA™ on this unit it is possible to gauge the process not only from an engineering standpoint, but also capture chemical and biotechnological aspects of performance; therefore, all ideas and improvements conceived by the researchers, and confirmed by the process engineers, are implemented here.
The other two pilot plants that operate in Rivalta use the sugar streams generated from the PROESA™ process, to produce “green” molecules such as glycols, carboxylic acids, fatty alcohols and highly requested intermediates, that find their way into large markets such as polymers, plastics, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and detergents.
The Laboratories are divided into three areas: biological processes, chemical processes, and analytical chemistry. In the bioprocesses lab, main activities include enzymatic hydrolysis, propagation and fermentation trials, with the purpose of:
- Assessing performance of hydrolytic enzymes and microorganisms for hydrolysis and fermentation of biomass.
- Carrying out small scale hydrolysis and fermentation screening tests, to identify the best set of operating conditions at pilot scale.
Within the chemical processes lab, using advanced instrumentation designed and conceived in-house, catalytic reactions are carried out. Key objectives of the lab are:
- To examine and optimize all variables of the novel reactions, paying particular attention to the properties of the catalysts used in the reactions.
- Identify “clean technology” reaction mechanisms, that can take place in a water based reaction medium, thereby easy to manage and environmentally friendly.
Finally, in the analytical lab, incoming biomass varieties are characterized for the entire R&D Center (wheat straw, bagasse, sugar cane straw, sorghum, Arundo donax, acacia, poplar, pennisetum purpureum, miscanthus etc.). Such biomass is then processed and transformed, first into sugars and then into chemicals, and all samples subsequently generated in the other R&D labs and on the pilot plant are also analyzed.