Project for sustainable low-cost production of levulinic acid

Levulinic acid is one of the key elements of the sustainable chemical industry of the future, used largely in pharmaceuticals

The project envisages using sugar beet co-products as the raw material

Bio-on and Sadam Group have begun working on a project to develop innovative industrial processes to produce levulinic acid at competitive cost and with low environmental impact. Currently, insufficient volumes are produced, with high market prices.

The US government considers levulinic acid to be one of the largest families of industrial derivatives of the future and it is deemed to be one of the 12 most promising bio-intermediates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

According to the most recent forecasts, Bio-on estimates that market demand for levulinic acid will grow 150–200-fold over the next 7–8 years.

It is used in pharmaceuticals as anti-inflammatory medication, for anti-allergy agents, mineral supplements and transdermal patches. The levulinic acid DALA is also used for diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Levulinic acid additionally has applications in the food and agriculture sectors as a herbicide, an alkaline earth metal salt to inhibit microbial growth, a pH regulator for ingredients and a disinfectant of fruit surfaces.

It is a platform chemical product that can be used to produce other chemical substances or to replace the synthetic alternatives. As it is a natural compound made from biomass, the project envisages using sugar beet co-products as the raw material.

Levulinic acid is considered one of the 12 'building blocks' of the green chemical industry of the future.

Current global production of levulinic acid comes from highly polluting plants, with an unacceptable environmental impact for European standards and with vast production costs, resulting in high market prices.

A pilot plant will be built for research and subsequent project development would involve the construction of a demo plant with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes of levulinic acid per year.

This structure should be built at Sadam's Tre Casali agro-industrial plant in San Quirico (Parma), which will also include an industrial plant, using Bio-on technology, to produce PHAs biopolymers from glycerol , a co-product of bio-diesel production.

This molecule is an extraordinary tool that can kick-start the re-launch of the Italian chemical industry.

The technology developed by Bio-on, Sadam Group will encourage the creation of bio-refineries in Europe capable of converting crude, natural raw materials into renewable elements with high added value, within the circular economy and green economy to be promoted in the European Union.

“Working on a new method of producing levulinic acid on an industrial scale fills us with pride,” said Marco Astorri, Chair of Bio-on S.p.A. “Levulinic acid is considered one of the 12 'building blocks' of the green chemical industry of the future.”

Massimo Maccaferri, Chair of Sadam, said: "This molecule is an extraordinary tool that can kick-start the re-launch of the Italian chemical industry, safeguarding employment and guaranteeing an investment in our future.”

The project is approved by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development (MISE), which will support an investment within a budget of 6m Euro.

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