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Coming full circle

The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that produces little or no waste, as opposed to the current ‘take-make-dispose’ linear economy, which is massively wasteful. It is estimated that 90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory, and that 80% of products made are thrown away within the first six months. In the circular economy model, durable goods are designed to be repaired rather than replaced, and biological materials managed so that they can be returned to the biosphere without contamination.

Givaudan

The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that produces little or no waste, as opposed to the current ‘take-make-dispose’ linear economy, which is massively wasteful. It is estimated that 90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory, and that 80% of products made are thrown away within the first six months. In the circular economy model, durable goods are designed to be repaired rather than replaced, and biological materials managed so that they can be returned to the biosphere without contamination.

Circular economy model

The Bazancourt-Pomacle biorefinery, also known as the European Biorefinery Institute, provides a unique model of the circular economy. Created with the first cooperative sugar factory in 1953, it integrates physical and bio-conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, heat, and value-added bio-sourced molecules from local biomass. Today it covers 160 hectares of land in Champagne-Ardennes, a region famous for its rich agricultural production: 60% of the landmass is devoted to crops.

The biorefinery currently processes one million tonnes of wheat and two million tonnes of sugar beet each year, and dehydrates 110,000 tonnes of sugar beet pulp and alfalfa. It is Europe’s highest-capacity biorefinery, operating 24 hours a day, employing 1,200 people and representing 10 different players including two global agro-industrial cooperative groups: Cristal Union and Vivescia.

Excellence in white biotechnology

Integrating an industrial complex as well as an innovation platform, it has become a prominent academic centre of excellence in white biotechnology and the circular economy. The site includes dedicated facilities for sugar processing and dehydration, starch and glucose processing, ethanol production, and a biofuel pilot factory.

“Soliance was created in 1994 to leverage the biotechnology expertise coming out of the joint Agro-Research and Development Centre (ARD), an innovative knowledge-sharing platform designed to explore different ways of using biomass resources produced by the biorefinery,” explains Alexis, Givaudan Operations Director Active Beauty.

He adds: “For example, we use glucose generated by the hydrolysis of starch from wheat to feed microorganisms needed to produce natural polymers such as hyaluronic acid (HA), and we use bioethanol crystallised from the fermentation of sugar beet or wheat to produce and purify dihydroxyacetone (DHA).”

Mastery of microorganism culture

Thanks to Soliance technologies, Givaudan Active Beauty is a global leader in the production of hyaluronic acid (HA), noted for its moisturising and anti-ageing properties, and dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the essential active ingredient in self-tanning products. The mastery of microorganism culture and molecules produced through ‘white’ biotechnology at the Bazancourt-Pomacle site are the core of the Company’s expertise. The diversity of microorganism strains, their selection and the optimisation of the process are key to offering a wide range of new potentially active molecules.
Can a face cream save the planet?

The biorefinery operates in a circular fashion, an industrial metabolism to which each member contributes both inputs and outputs. For example, water is generated as a by-product from sugarbeets and reused in specialised products and processes; CO2 resulting from fermentation is captured for use in the carbonation of beverages; ethanol is recycled and finally, effluents are sent to a retention and purification plant for downstream spreading on fields. 

Ensuring a low carbon footprint

The use of fertiliser is kept low thanks to the reuse of effluent from the purification plant. The minimal need for transport thanks to close geographic proximity further helps ensure a low carbon footprint.

“Our customers appreciate the fact that Givaudan Active Beauty products are made with high-quality, renewable plant biomass, sourced from local suppliers and in keeping with an approach that favours biodiversity,” says Alexis. “As a member of the biorefinery, we also contribute to the positive growth dynamic within the Bazancourt-Pomacle area, a region with an otherwise high rate of unemployment.”

The combined savings in water, energy and waste add up to a significant eco-efficiency benefit, not only for increasingly green-minded customers but for the environment. The Bazancourt-Pomacle biorefinery offers a promising example of what can be achieved by the circular economy, a model that may offer a tangible solution to help address the rising challenges of world hunger, diminishing resources and climate change.