One of the targets of the EU-funded INGREEN project is demonstrated in real operational environment the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) from paper mill wastewater by fermentation. For this purpose, InnovEn designed a pilot plant which was installed in Q2 of 2020 at the premises of Smurfit Kappa Italy (SKI). We spoke with Anita Rizzini, biotechnologist working for InnovEn, who gave us the latest update on the new pilot plant. After several tests it was made operational in Q3 of 2020. The ambition is that if the tests are successful, SKI will adapt its industrial process to produce PHA for commercial applications.
Anita explained that InnovEn is an academic spin off company born from the experience gained in years of applied research by professors Franco Cecchi, David Bolzonella and Francesco Fatone, all working at the Department of Biotechnology of the University of Verona. Main expertise of the team are in the fields of anaerobic fermentation and digestion of municipal/industrial/agricultural organic waste for organic molecules production (lactic acid, volatile fatty acids), biofuels (hydrogen, methane) and nutrients recovery from municipal/industrial wastewaters treatment. Anita and her colleagues also do activities in European projects like INGREEN and AFTERLIFE, contract research with/for external companies, and still have close links with the University of Verona.
According to Anita the main goal of the tests in the pilot plant is to reach maximum PHA content in the bacterial cells. To achieve this, they have to act on all the phases of the process. She explained that the pilot plant is equipped with 3 bioreactors for selection and accumulation phases, several pumps, a Pieralisi centrifuge, for concentrating the biomass after the accumulation phase, and ovens for drying the centrifuged biomass. As it is a pilot plant designed for research purposes there are a number of probes and sensors incorporated in the design of the pilot plant to monitor what is happening during processing. Anita explained that the big advantage of the current set-up is that it can be operated by staff from SKI, while she and her colleagues at InnoveEn can control everything from a distance. Once the pilot-plant system is optimized, the only manual step that the SKI team needs to perform is the transfer of the concentrated PHA-enriched biomass from the centrifuge to the dryers, for the final step of the process. We are very much looking forward to seeing the results of the tests in the pilot plant in connection with the ambitions of the INGREEN project.