Australian bio-based solvents get EU green light

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Paper industry identity Tony Duncan’s dream of converting bio-waste into advanced bio-based chemicals will move into production mode with the opening of a French manufacturing plant next year.

'Greatly appreciated': Tony Duncan, CEO Circa Group. Opening manufacturing: Tony Duncan

The Melbourne-based Circa Group is taking the lead in the European flagship project to produce non-toxic solvents through its proprietary Furacel technology. Following the success of its prototype plant in Tasmania with joint-venture partner, Norske Skog, the $20m plant in eastern France will move the technology into the mainstream. Aiming to replace toxic solvents with renewable alternatives, it will manufacture the chemical building block levoglucosenone (LGO) to produce bio-based solvent Cyrene.

The Australian group leads 11 partners from six countries under the banner ReSolute to develop the new product in manufacturing and downstream conversion in Europe. Using Australian-developed technology, Cyrene manufacture involves one-step production using feedstock from non-food renewable biomass such as cellulose to create alternatives to traditional hazardous solvents.

According to Duncan, Circa Group CEO and the driving force behind the venture, the launch of the ReSolute project opens a new era for the technology. “Following five successful pilots, technology developed by Circa is one of the few out there providing sustainable options for bio-based solvents. We are delighted to kick-off this project and move into industrial scale while supporting the EU’s climate, energy and circular economy goals,” he said.

“Circa has developed five successful pilots – most recently its joint venture with Norske Skog in Tasmania.”

Traditional solvents such as NMP, DMF, DMAc and DCM are all under intense regulatory pressure, yet are still being used in large volumes, many in the printing industry. The new plant is expected to reach a production capacity of 1000 tonnes of Cyrene per year. Engineering work will begin next month, and the estimated commissioning date is end of 2022.

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