EU R&D and Innovations

Italian Oil Company ENI and Bioplastics

A Short History and Summary of ENI Versalis' Bioplastics Activities.

ENI is an Italian oil company established in 1953. It evolved from an oil company called AGIP (Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli meaning General Italian Oil Company) established in 1926.

agip bioplastics

ENI means “Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi” (National Hydrocarbons Authority) and its HQ are in Rome. ENI’s market capitalisation is € 68 billion, the Italian government own 30,3% and the Chinese government owns 2%.

The Enrico Mattei Assassination

ENI’s first chairman, Enrico Mattei’s, was assassinated in 1962. His small airplane was taken down on his way to Milan (IT) from Catania (Sicily). Mattei negotiated oil concessions in the Middle East, made trade agreements with the Soviet Union and broke the oligopoly of the major oil companies of that time. He referred to them as the seven sisters, a term that stayed: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (became BP), Gulf Oil (became Chevron), Royal Dutch Shell, Standard Oil Company of California (became Chevron), Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (became Esso ->Exxon ->ExxonMobil), Standard Oil Company of New York (became Mobil ->ExxonMobil) and Texaco (merged with Chevron).

enrico attei versalis

VERSALIS

Versalis is the chemical company of ENI and used to be called Polimeri Europa (European Polymers) until 2012. Versalis‘ turnover was €4.2 billon in 2016. Versalis manages the production and marketing of petrochemical products such as olefines, aromatics, intermediates, styrenes, elastomers and polyethylene. Versalis has also become active in bioplastics recently.

bioplastics versalis logo

VERSALIS CIRCULAR ECONOMY STRATEGY

Versalis circular economy strategy can be summarised as follow:

  • life cycle perspective and eco-design;
  • diversification of raw materials, combining renewable sources with traditional production cycles;
  • polymer recycling, by improving collection rates and the quality of recycled material.

VERSALIS BIOPLASTICS ACTIVITIES

  • MATRICA (2011)

The Versalis and Novamont joint venture is called “Matrica”. Matrica is an innovative project integrating agriculture and industry converting vegetable oils into monomers and intermediates at industrial scale. Matrica is an old petrochemical site in Sardinia converted into a production and R&D centre for green chemistry. The Matrica products will be marketed under the brand “Matrilox”. The applications will cover bioplastics, bio-lubricants, personal care products, additives and phitosanitary.

Read More: ENI Versalis & Novamont Inaugurate first joint venture plant & Turning thistles into Plastics – The Matrica Complex

  • BIO-BUTADIENE (2013)

Versalis, Novamont and Genomatica have a joint venture to produce bio-based butadiene. The joint venture aims at producing polymer-grade butadiene from biomass. Versalis holds a majority interest in the joint venture holding and aims to build the first commercial plant using this process technology. In February 2017, this bio-butadiene (bio-BDE) technology won the “Environmental Achievement of the Year” Award of the “Tire Technology International Awards for Excellence and Innovation”.

Read MoreVersalis to Partner with Genomatica and Novamont for Bio-based Butadiene

  • GUAYULE PROJECT (2013)

Versalis launched an initiative to extract natural rubber from guayule in 2013. Guayule is a kind of bush found in Mexico and Southwest US. The Guayule project covers the entire supply chain: from cultivation of the plants to the extraction of the rubber. A pilot guayule cultivation phase is under way in Sicily and will be completed in 2018.

Versalis will use the natural rubber to produce bio-based materials mainly for the tyre industry. An agreement was signed in this context with Bridgestone Americas to develop, deploy and commercialise the guayule rubber technology. The partnership combines Versalis’ research, process engineering and market development and Bridgestone’s leadership position in guayule agriculture and production technologies. The purpose of this partnership is to deploy a commercially attractive technology package.

Read MoreVersalis bridgestone agreement bioplastics guayule

  • YEAST OILS PROJECT

There’s an algae-based high oleic oil R&D project, probably around the conversion of algae into yeast. The purpose is to develop new bio-based products. The project is being conducted at the Versalis green chemistry centre at Novara. However, the “yeast oil project”, has not reached the desired economic sustainability yet.

Versalis is also progressing in research activities toward High Oleic Sunflower Oil (HOSO) from second generation sugar via yeast. However, no further information can be disclosed or found at the moment.

  • VERSALIS and ELEVANCE PARTNERSHIP (2014)

The purpose of this strategic partnership is to develop a new metathesis technology to produce bio-chemicals from vegetable oils. Studies are ongoing to optimize product portfolio and performances, and to assess the different market opportunities. The expected results is the development of high added value bio-based intermediates for several applications such as detergents, biolubricants and oil & gas industry.

Read MoreElevance and Versalis pioneers a second-generation biorefinery technology via Ethenolysis: a break-through

Closing Remarks

  • ENI is one of the few oil companies to be involved in bioplastics and should therefore be encouraged to continue in that direction.
  • ENI Versalis reinforces the Italian presence in Bioplastics making Italy one of the leading bioplastics nations.
  • Following questions could be asked: Are these project delivering their expected results?  Will Versalis be the first petrochemical company to become a full bio-chemical company?
  • If Enrico Mattei was still alive, he would probably go full speed into bioplastics and bio-chemicals to prove the seven sisters wrong.

RELATED ARTICLES