3.05 Wood, not oil! 

Fabrizio Cavani
Aprile 2023
Settembre 2025
Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna
  • Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
  • Università degli studi di Napoli Federico II
  • Politecnico di Milano
  • Università degli Studi di Padova
  • Università degli Studi di Palermo
  • Sapienza Università di Roma
3.05 Wood, not oil! 

This project relates to Task 3.3.2 “Plant-based materials: design and synthesis from renewable, non-edible biomass residues” of the Made in Italy Circolare e Sostenibile (MICS) Extended Partnership project.
Key elements of the project
Most of the products that we use in everyday life are, at some stage, derived from oil. The unconventional use of the wood industry residues (agricultural, forestry, furniture, biorefinery) can provide a sufficient amount of renewable raw material to achieve independence from fossil fuels and develop alternative materials with a better toxicological profile.
Expected outcomes
Demonstration of effective and sustainable chemical processes for the conversion of non-edible plant biomass derivatives (lignocellulose, platform molecules and sugars), obtained from the residues of the furniture, paper, agricultural and forestry industries, into new materials and compounds with high added value for Made-in-Italy sectors (bioplastics, bio-solvents, textiles, pharmaceutical intermediates, food additives, lubricants, adhesives, fragrances, cosmetics and dyes).
Work Plan
The project will be broken down into the following complementary activities, representing the main contributions to the development of a value chain for lignocellulose to new products and materials as a whole, each with identified leading Partner:

  1. Advanced catalytic processes for the production and processing of platform molecules (leader CNR)
    Low-cost, abundant residues from renewable non-edible lignocellulosic biomass (sugars, cellulose, lignin, oils) will be separated and catalytically converted into valuable chemicals (monomers, building blocks, finished products) through cost-effective and low impact chemical processes. Upgrade to innovative or drop-in materials will be within the scope of the activity. Use of nonconventional solvents (e.g. ionic liquids, deep eutectic solvents), eventually in combination with advances techniques (e.g. microwaves, ultrasounds irradiation, electrocatalysis, photocatalysis and photoelectrocatalysis) will be investigated.
  2. Green processes for the transformation of biomass into bio-monomers and polymers (leader UniBo)
    The activity aims to use renewable raw material for the production of biopolymers. The raw material considered will be based on lignocellulosic biomass, and/or CO2 and CO2 derivatives (carbonates) to obtain monomers for the production of polyurethanes and polyesters, targeting the textile and furniture industries. Processes will be carried out by chemo-catalytic processes, using either heterogeneous or homogeneous catalysts, and following the principles of Green Chemistry. (a) Bio-based polyesters: new monomers will be synthesized starting from cyclopentanone and organic carbonates to produce adipic acid esters and related polymers. (b) Bio-based polyurethanes: new monomers will be synthesized starting from cyclocarbonates and diamines. Innovative plastics based on the polyesters and polyurethanes developed will be formulated with renewable additives to fulfil the needs of the reference industrial sectors.
  3. Biotechnologies for the synthesis of bio-chemicals and polymers (leader UniNa)
    Waste from the agro and forestry industry will be deconstructed to obtain sugars for the microbial fermentation to polyhydroxyalkanoates, and proteins for bioadesives and biosurfactants additives. Polyhydroxyhexanoate (PHH) will be synthesized by means of a two-step process, including the pre-fermentation of the destructured biomass, to obtain volatile fatty acids (VFAs), and post-fermentation of VFAs into PHH. The material will be extracted by the use of sustainable solvents/additives like alkyl carbonates, bio-based esters or CO2-recoverable surfactants, then tested for textile coatings. PHH-based plastics and composites with renewable additives will be formulated to develop new solutions that fulfil the industrial needs. Fermentation under aerobic conditions will include treatment of agricultural waste by Actinomycetes isolated from Sicilian soils.
  4. Wood-based materials (leader PoliMi)
    Cellulosic biomass (CB) is a primary source for the preparation of biomaterials. This activity will be focused on aldaric acids from CB. Derivatives such as unsaturated diacids, pyrones, aromatic carboxylic acids, (di)anhydrides will be prepared. They will be used as building blocks of polymers, for the reversible crosslinking of polymer chains, for the functionalization of inorganic oxy-hydroxides and sp2 carbon allotropes. These molecules will be validated as functional additives in bioplastic formulations based on PHH, bio-based polyesters and bio-based polyurethanes.

    The above activities will be complemented by those provided by Spoke 4 in terms of sustainability evaluation by LCA, exploitation of animal-derived biomass, including wool and tannery scraps.

The main target of this project is to replace products and materials obtained from conventional, non-renewable petrochemical sources, with other manufactured from renewable raw materials.
Thus, the project focuses on the use of the large amount of non-edible, vegetable biomass residues (coming from agricultural, forestry, biorefinery, paper residues) to produce not only drop-in chemicals, but also new products and materials, with performances equal or better than those of fossil based ones.
Both high volume and high added-value chemicals (intermediates, monomers, building blocks, functional biomolecules with antioxidants, antibacterial, antivirals activities), suitable for the production of bio-lubricants, bio-surfactants, bio-solvents, bio-polymers, bio-paints, bio-adhesive as well as cosmetic and specialty chemicals will be designed and produced. Natural feedstock will include lignocellulosic biomass (cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin), vegetable oils, proteins and terpenes. Despite methods already exist to this purpose, new processes will be designed to satisfy environmental and sustainability standards. Design of catalytic systems, both chemical and enzymatic, will be central to this goal.
Results will fall within TRL 1 and TRL4.
Project progress will be regularly monitored by reporting measurable indicators every ten months.