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The Politecnico of Turin presented to the public and to investors the companies hosted in its I3P incubator.
Reusing, fixing, renewing and recycling materials to revitalize the Italian economic system. This is the challenge of the innovative start-ups of the I3P incubator of the Politecnico of Turin, which on May 5th showcased the new green firms hosted by the incubator. The occasion was a conference by the title “Circular economy: solutions to access a €604 billion worth sector in Europe” (“Economia circolare: soluzioni per aggredire un settore da 604 miliardi di euro in Europa”). This is more than just an economic sector: it is a new market perspective that has the potential to help both the environment and the pockets of potential investors.
The start-ups presented in Turin work in the most diverse fields: new generation fuels obtained from plastic materials or oils with a high level of fatty acids, lightened cement mixes for construction, new generation bioplastics made with biomasses from food waste, etc.
These are the innovative companies presented in Turin:
Produces advanced (so-called 2nd generation) synthetic fuels through the treatment of end-of-life plastic materials by means of a patented catalytic pyrolysis technology. The raw materials used in the process are secondary raw materials, i.e. plastic coming from the recycling chain. The first plant was already started successfully. The next step will be the hydrogenation of fuels, a process which the firm will be investing on in the next few years, aiming for a substantial increase of the amount of its completely renewable energy vectors.
The company developed an effective solution for the reduction of fatty acids in oils: this determined a significant increase of the value of the incoming raw materials, which are directly transformed into fuel. Fatty acids cause inefficiency and high wear levels, forcing operators of the sector to buy refined oils or oils that were originally of high quality (such as palm oil). The partnership strategy employed by the start-up allowed to activate the first plant on an industrial scale, thus overcoming the inevitable technical and normative obstacles deriving from such a complex venture.
Sawing muds are waste by-products of stone extraction and processing works: this waste, produced during extraction and cutting phases, represents a considerable economic and environmental problem. To better understand the scale of the problem is it enough to consider that every year Europe produces about 345,000 tons of sawing muds, which have no other destination but landfills. Now, however, the process developed by Stonebricks allows to transform sawing muds in highly valuable construction materials that are suitable to be used in the building sector. The project, created in cooperation with sector professionals, is an excellent example of technological integration: it shows how an innovative technology can be integrated in traditional sectors, generating value for all.
The company promotes supply chain models in the field of forestry based on the model of the Energy Service Companies. This approach involves local actors (local authorities, forestry companies, artisans, plant installation companies) and citizens, who are the subjects concerned by the social, economic and environmental impacts of the starting of a new work chain. Replant designed a complete model that spans from the approach to forest resources up to specific solutions to desiccate, select and distribute wood material as an alternative to imported pellets.
Polìpo (poli like polymer and lipo from Greek “fat”) works on the development of biodegradable plastics for non-food industry. The raw materials are plant oils: they are used to produce completely biodegradable polymers with a structure similar to polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). These oils can be first-generation (canola oil, sunflower oil) or second-generation (deriving from waste biomasses such as tomato seeds, pomace and coffee grounds). The aim is to produce completely biodegradable plastics from food waste that is currently of no or little use.
The company is working on the development of a process to fully recover precious metals and rare earth elements from electronic devices out of use, possibly from WEEE (Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment). This sector has got a high economic potential: 20 to 50 million tons of hi-tech waste are produced in the world every year, and this waste contains up to 320 tons of gold and 7,200 tons of silver with a total value of over €15 billion: according to UN sources, only 15% of this treasure is recovered. It is estimated that Europe has an economic potential of at least €1 billion that could be generated through the recovery of precious materials, with an increase of the recycling rate from the current 33% to 80% of the 10 billion tons of WEEE produced every year. Many of the recovered metals would be rare earth elements: these are valuable materials that are currently imported for a total of about 12-20 thousand tons per year, with prices that vary between $5,000 and $10,000 per ton.
Coarse wool from European breeding and meat industry is a valueless by-product which cannot be used in the textile industry. However, the annual shearing (which is necessary for the well-being of the sheep) produces 1.5-3 kg of coarse wool per animal, amounting to over 200 thousand tons in Europe, of which 18-20 thousand tons in Italy. There is no data available on the amount of wool dumped in landfills, nor on storage, transportation and disposal practices. Greenwolf’s project, which involves the Politecnico of Turin, the National Research Council (CNR) and Obem S.p.a., aims at demonstrating the feasibility of a process that converts wool waste into soil improving fertilizers. The process is based on local hydrolysis plants, in order to reduce the wool and fertilizer transportation costs, and allows to skip the phases of wool washing and disposal. Coarse wool that cannot be used any other way will thus becomes a soil fertilizer through a demonstrative plant that can process 1/3 of the annual shearing in Piedmont (1 ton/day).
Microwaste aims at solving the problem of asbestos waste on a national scale in a completely ecological way. The company plans to deliver an on-site asbestos inertisation service through a mobile microwave-based heat treatment: this system eliminates the carcinogenic potential of asbestos, making it a marketable secondary raw material. The inertisation process consists in heating the asbestos at high temperatures (1,000-1,5000°C), so as to completely modify its chemical structure. The asbestos is thus transformed into a new material called Atonit, which has been proven to be completely harmless for humans and for the environment: Atonit can be mixed with cement to create a construction material similar to pozzolanic cement.
For more information, visit the I3P website