CBE JU has been established between the European Union and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) to provide funding for projects that drive the development of competitive circular bio-based industries under Horizon Europe, the European Union's research and innovation program.
Competing against five other companies, Project Sustainext secured the grant to facilitate the company’s objectives to promote the bioeconomy making it the first 100% Spanish project funded by the CPE JU.
The primary objective is the implementation of a multi-product net-zero carbon digital processing facility with a capacity of 20,000 metric tons of raw material output.
This entails implementing various measures such as enhancing energy efficiency, installing agri-voltaic solar panels, raised solar panels which allow the simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar panels and agriculture, and incorporating a biomass boiling chamber to generate self-sufficient heat.
José María Pinilla, R&D Project Manager at Natac, explains that as the region with the highest installed capacity of photovoltaic solar energy in Spain, the competition for land usage for solar panels has intensified, resulting in increased carbon emissions due to the change in land use.
By comparison, agri-voltaic systems offer better use of land and a sustainable solution to this challenge.
Project Sustainext focuses on upscaling a concept in biorefining, which involves the integrated processing of renewable feedstocks into a spectrum of marketable products, developed by the team at an industrial facility based in Extremadura, Spain.
Pinilla explains traditional biorefining processes typically follow a static approach, where a single feedstock undergoes a series of predetermined steps to obtain a final product.
He tells NutraIngredients, that in contrast, Project Sustainext introduces a cascade approach that enables the extraction of multiple products from a single feedstock.
Moreover, the project modifies the industrial process for each batch of feedstock based on its initial composition, optimising downstream processing to maximise value extraction.
The core objective of Sustainext is to translate this novel approach into an industrial reality.
With previous successful results at a smaller scale, the team is confident in its ability to realise this vision.
Another noteworthy aspect of Project Sustainext is its collaboration with disused local tobacco fields in Extremadura, in Spain.
As tobacco consumption declines, the project offers farmers who possess the fields with the knowledge and resources required for cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants.
Pinilla explains that by cultivating these crops in the tobacco fields, the project aims to foster close supply chains while providing profitable and sustainable opportunities for farmers.
The fields will now play home to rosemary, lemon verbena, and chamomile, which are produced for Natac’s botanical portfolio for use in supplements.
While sustainability is a key focus, Project Sustainext also emphasises cost-effectiveness.
While the grant facilitates the implementation of sustainable processes, Pinilla explains that the project's business plan ensures economic viability, aiming to be cost-competitive while maintaining the highest degree of sustainability.
He notes that by extracting maximum value from feedstocks and employing energy production from biomass and solar panels, the project aims to minimise costs and even save money in energy consumption.