The BETA TC is involved in the construction of two pioneering biorefineries in Europe

They will convert municipal solid waste and sewage sludge into high value-added products

Establishing a new model for waste treatment in cities and giving them a second life by turning them into very high value-added products. That is the goal of CIRCULAR BIOCARBON, a new European Commission flagship project that has been under way since last June, led by Urbaser and Socamex with the participation of the BETA Technological Center at the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC). To that end, they will be commissioning two pioneering biorefineries in Europe over the next five years, designed to treat the organic fraction of urban solid waste (OFSUW) and sludge from urban wastewater treatment plants.

The project will lay the foundations for the commercial demonstration of the viability of the concept of biorefining as the basis for a new urban waste treatment model. According to Mabel Mora, head of the Environmental Technologies and Circular Bioeconomy area at the BETA Technological Center, it is unique in that “it seeks to open up new business and business frameworks based on a new circular vision of overall waste treatment” which “will help pave the way for a sustainable circular bioeconomy.”

CIRCULAR BIOCARBON was awarded the highest grade from the European Commission, and has received funding of more than 23 million Euros through the BBI-JU (Bio-based Joint Undertaking Industries) programme, which aims to implement the Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA). The project will be a benchmark for the whole of Europe thanks to the scale of its implementation at the industrial level, and its potential for replication in other territories after the final conclusions have been reached. The consortium includes 11 members from 5 European countries (Spain, Italy, Denmark, France and Germany). In addition to UVic-UCC, the partners are Urbaser S.A.U.Socamex, S.A.U.CAP Holding S.p.A., CemeCon Scandinavia A/SGraphenea Semiconductor S.L.U., Novamont S.p.A.Agro Innovation InternationalICLEI European Secretariat GMBH, the University of Valladolid and Università Politecnica delle Marche.

Two biorefineries planned

Two biorefineries will launch the project. One will be located in Zaragoza, and the other in Sesto San Giovanni (Italy). The researchers’ aim is for both to end up producing a very wide range of biomaterials, but to do so using different technologies in order to simultaneously test which biorefinery model is more viable for implementation on a larger scale in the future.

Construction of the Zaragoza biorefinery will begin in 2022 at Urbaser’s Alfonso Maíllo Waste Technological Innovation Center (WTIC) Zaragoza Urban Waste Treatment Complex (ZUWTC). The biorefinery will be fully operational at the end of the project, and will have sufficient capacity to treat all the biological waste produced by the equivalent of a medium-sized town. Urbaser, a global environmental management company, and Socamex, Urbaser’s water branch, will coordinate this five-year project.

The involvement of the BETA Technological Center

The BETA Technological Center will provide technical support in the design of the Zaragoza biorefinery, and in the definition of many of the operational conditions and in the monitoring of the plant. The Center will also be involved in producing high value-added biofertilisers, in a partnership with the French company Groupe Roullier. In many cases, the innovative nature of the technologies that will be applied and their integration require advanced knowledge of similar processes. “The experience the BETA Technological Center has obtained in several H2020 projects in recent years was considered in a very positive light by the organisers of the project when the consortium was being set up,” explains Mabel Mora, who says that “participating in a project as important as this one is a major step forward for us.” According to Mora, “CIRCULAR BIOCARBON will be one of the main benchmarks in Europe for new models of waste management from the perspective of the bioeconomy, and being a member of its consortium is further recognition of the work we have done in recent years.”

Another area in which the BETA Technological Center will play a major role will be in the assessment of sustainability, “in order to ensure that the biorefinery models promoted within the framework of CIRCULAR BIOCARBON are truly sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective in comparison with the type of treatments that it seeks to replace.”