Forested rural areas are a valuable source of non-fossil raw materials




Forested rural areas can be a driver of the European sustainable bioeconomy model if their valuable non-fossil raw materials can be used effectively

In the circular sustainable bioeconomy perspective, forested rural areas represent a precious source of the lignocellulose and non-fossil raw materials for established or newly emerging market applications. Within the European Green Deal we need to debate and share visions on how to tap the potential of forested rural areas as a driver of the European sustainable bio-economy.

We are at the dawn of a new techno-economic system. Nowadays, the main challenge is to carry out sustainable innovation processes in order to re-convert the production of manufacturing industries to be competitive while respecting the target of climate neutrality.

The incumbent climate crisis and dramatic impact of the pandemic, along with the extraordinary progress of green, environmental and white biotechnologies and digital communication, potentially pave the way to disruptive innovation for the sustainable growth dynamics of territories. The same concept of “rural” (being remote and under demographic decline) and “urbanization” (driver of innovation and progress) is going to change.

Proper policies, duly redesigned according to a systemic approach, could allow rural communities to start an extraordinary journey into a more sustainable and innovative future.

Cities face the risk of increased impact due to climate change, pollution and conflicts among societal groups. Conversely, rural areas, less densely populated and rich in cultural and natural heritage, could become highly attractive alternatives. These rural areas could provide healthier environments offering a more affordable lifestyle to (young) people looking for job opportunities.  Advanced manufacturing and service businesses, operating in the international markets, might thrive in these areas, given that suitable technological infrastructures are put in place.

Properly infrastructured rural areas, respecting the potential of natural ecosystems, could become highly attractive. The same concept of remoteness can change, as working remotely for a part of current duties of employees working in cities and offices is becoming more and more frequent. Also, electricity powered transport (such as short distance electric aircraft and drone technology) may provide new approaches to the transformation of peripheral conditions that ensure climate change neutralityMoreover, the most recent advancement in biorefinery technologies and digital technologies (IoT, IA, …) must be duly studied to identify the most appropriate applications that enable the decoupling of growth from the consumption of natural resources.

Present evolution in biocatalytic small-sized modular multipurpose biorefineries offer an attractive combination:

  • Robust research-driven cluster start-up connected to the biorefinery of lignocellulosic feedstocks and industrial valorisation of their outputs (natural primitive fibres, regenerated cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose and other biochemicals)
  • High quality of life and vibrant creative industries such as tourism and hospitality, visual and media industry.

Currently, forests in EU provide 3.5 million jobs (many more than the three heaviest and most energy-wasting industrial chains – steel, chemicals, cement). The sector includes 400,000 small and medium-sized enterprises and 16 million forest owners. Rural, Mountainous and remote areas constitute 80% of the EU territory.

These territories can provide sustainable leverage for the Green Deal, not merely because Europe must ensure cohesion, but because they are the major source of bio-based raw materials for a European autonomous capacity to inspire the bio-based industry of tomorrow. Forested rural areas must become the champions of the Green Deal Agenda and Next Generation EU if the Green Deal is to become a reality and not just a promise.

Forest policies as a vital component of the EU Green Deal

No doubt the EU Green Deal is the most courageous and  transformative European political initiative in recent decades. However, such great vision and ambition cannot be delivered without rethinking the way we produce and consume, including how we conceive territorial planning. Circularity applied to a fossil-based economy is not the way forward. We must jump into the sustainable bioeconomy era, which is usually circular from inception.

A starting point for incisive and transformative new policies must be the revision of data provision and accessibility.

Attention should be given to build accessible, integrated, multilevel databases, like the ones of Eurostat and FAO, that combine quantitative and qualitative data and ensure a detailed understanding of the very diverse typologies of rural territories with a new perspective. Data must be complete, updated and specific. For instance, they must include the extension of private and state-owned forests, the percentage of forests classified as protected zones and by different typologies, climate zones and plant species (including woody and non-woody species). We should design rigorous indicators to rate environmental, cultural and socio-economic values.  It is also necessary to estimate the potential of plant waste that could be harvested to maintain the landscape and prevent fires and hydrogeological disaster.

Policies aimed to build a circular bio-economy model must optimize the sustainable exploitation of European lignocellulose biomasses while enabling a viable upgrading of the social and economic livelihood in rural territories.

In the post-covid era, coexistence of ecological innovative industries with lifestyles that reinforce cultural values and traditions could become reality in precious and often unique rural ecosystems.

Culture and heritage protection and valorisation are the connecting values of the European communities and we must take into consideration how to bind together the need for transformation with historically resilient and sustainable settlement models. In the past the relationship between natural and anthropic landscapes with built environments has resulted in rural settlements that reinforced the sense of societal identity and fostered social cohesion. At the same time, the local building culture was naturally sustainable, since it utilized local natural resources and materials.

If disruptive changes are introduced early in the policymaking, the past will meet the future and generate potent alternative means of development in contrast to the consumeristic approach of present society.

Moving from waste policies to materials policies.The GINEXTRA® bio-refinery technology



I. The current pattern of materials use in Europe

The current pattern of materials use in Europe endangers the availability of the natural resources on which our welfare is based. In addition, this pattern of usage has a negative impact on the quality of air, water and soil, on human health, on climate change and on biodiversity. This environmental degradation occurs both within and outside the EU. If each inhabitant of the world would adopt a consumption pattern equal to that of the average European, the ecological carrying capacity of our planet would be exceeded by far. It is well known that Europes’ imports of agri-food commodities from poorer countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia impact many societal, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions such as landscape resilience (see the dedicated large extension of land cultivation) and food security of local communities. A typical example is the coffee commodity. Another relevant example is constituted by the so-called high-tech metals. Platinum, cobalt, titanium, indium and others are  critical materials for the development of environmental technologies aimed at boosting energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The EU will not master the shift towards sustainable production and environmentally responsible products without such high-tech metals. EU is faced with a supply risk for high-tech metals due to a high import dependence especially from Africa, where 80% of world production is extracted. Put simply, while Europe imports natural resources, it is exporting environmental pressures. Summing up, the main problems related to the present European model of materials use are twofold :

  1. The environmental impact generated by the current pattern of materials use.

The extensive use of natural resources to generate energy and to produce products causes direct and indirect environmental problems and pressures, such as the destruction of fertile land and loss of biodiversity due to extraction; pollution of air, water and soil during production and waste management; the negative effects of transport; and global warming. In short, our use of materials and the related production of damaging greenhouse gas, toxic and non-degradable waste are more extensive than the planet’s capacity to maintain healthy ecosystems.

  1. Scarcity caused by the current pattern of materials use.

The current pattern of production, consumption and materials use in Europe endangers the availability of the natural resources on which our well-being is based. Natural resources use in Europe exceeds availability, and Europe heavily relies on the import of natural resources. Worldwide population growth (from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050) and economic development lead to an increasing demand for natural resources, many of which are finite. This implies that growing global competition for natural resources is adding to the concerns about the future availability of natural resources for Europe. All the above mentioned facts urge Europe to move from waste policies to materials policies covering the full life-cycle, crossing generational and geographical boundaries.

II. Investing in new Bio-refinery approaches

  The EU has gone through considerable efforts in the last 20 years to improve material efficiency, mainly through science technology development in White and Environmental Biotechnology. Nevertheless, this has not been sufficient to reverse fundamentally unsustainable consumption and production trends. In order to obtain true sustainability, far higher levels of absolute decoupling are required. Generally speaking, in the OECD countries, an absolute reduction of an environmental load of around 90% (“Factor 10″) is required within the next three to four decades.  Therefore, the EU (and the Member States) urgently need to manage its raw materials more sustainably and work towards a decoupling of environmental impact from rise in well-being. Europe needs to extracted natural resources in lower concentrations and from difficult or unexploited locations, but this could take to higher energy consumption and increased pressure on the environment, if suitable strategies are not put into practice such as taking risks to invest in sustainable and cost-efficient processing technologies for converting side streams and co-products from bio-based operations into high added-value products and hence increase the supply of biomass feedstock. This is not what is currently happening in Europe: namely current practices in Europe is to divert side streams to low-value applications such as energy and fuels. The present scenario sees a largely prevailing concentration in technologies destroying feedstock’s to produce bio fuel with a lack of attention paid to both optimisation of the biomass sustainable use and the optimised valorisation of the side streams. The prevailing business model is “mechanically” derived from the old petrochemical refinery model. It is based on huge financial investments in big bio-refinery plants which require huge quantity of biomasses at a very low price, cultivated in dedicated huge extension of lands in the surroundings of the bio refinery. If this business and technological model continues to be largely prevailing in Europe, shortly it could lead to delocalisation in the less development countries where low labour costs and large extension of lands are available with huge negative impact on social, economic and environmental effects on the European MS and their third countries partners (especially African countries and Mena countries). On the contrary European cultural and business sustainable models have a vital need for small-scale multipurpose modular and integrated biorefinery technologies, which process wild and cultivated nonfood lignocellulosic biomasses, with zero waste and zero impact on the landscape and natural environment. This is what the  GINEXTRA® technology offers! This kind of technologies could act as a driver of sustainable development models in the European neighbouring countries, vital parts in the whole biomass exploitation value chain. They will allow to establish sustainable logistic strategies and supply-chain management and preserve the cultural and natural environment of most European rural territories and communities as well as intact ecosystem in the African and Mena countries. Additionally, the introduction of this approach will result in a great benefit for the sustainability and competitiveness of the natural fiber industry and especially for the European textile industry. It will allow the inauguration of radical new rural development models and foster new international relations with our historical partners: African and Mena neighbouring countries.

 III. The GINEXTRA® technology

GINEXTRA® is already a European Registered Brand (Registration number 7055312, classes 01, 07, 16, 22, 23, 40) which identify patented and proprietary multipurpose modular bio-refinery technologies and a duly tested model of community regeneration. Thanks to an intense research activity, led in partnership with the most advanced European R&D bodies specialised in white and environmental biotechnologies and their application to natural fibres, ARTES has achieved the following tangible results:

- Two proprietary non-commercially released microbial strains selected and used to produce an enzymatic cocktail with a high degradative capacity of lignin and hemicellulose, but not capable of attacking the cellulose component, which had to be separated but not modified in its physical and mechanical characteristics.

- Realisation and patenting of a pilot biotechnology plant (in a small scale for the extraction of 5 kg. per day of crude fiber) with low power consumption (Patent n° 0001396855 entitled “Machine, procedure and combined plant for the separation of fibers for textile by macerated stems of fiber plant”); which only uses enzymatic retting and mechanical defibering.

- Conception, engineering and lab testing (300 gr, 2,5 kg) of a multipurpose new fast bio – refinery plant, which reduces the fibre extraction time to 1/8, compared with the already patented plant and produces liquid and solid wastes of particular potential interest for the extraction of hemicelluloses, lignin, and other biochemicals (patent demand N°To achieve rapid, sustained and concerted changes in lifestyles and resource use that cut across all levels of society and economy).

- Cultivation and mechanized harvesting of the Spartium junceum successfully tested, with parameter definition of profitability compared with hemp and flax;

- Industrial spinning and weaving of the resulting fibres and realisation of samples of yarn, paper, bacterial nanocellulose, lignin and hemicellulose.

- Creation and registration of the CTM GINEXTRA (Registration number 7055312, classes 01, 07, 16, 22, 23, 40)

Upscaling and integration of technologies, moving from lab research and small-scale demonstrators is the goal of ARTES which has formed a large partnership among industries and biotechnological European laboratories and is developing project proposals in both BBI JU calls and other programmes such as ENI CBCMED and INTERREG Central Europe. A huge investment in project design and development. GINEXTRA® technology consists in obtaining fiber from Spartium junceum (Spanish broom, or Ginestra) a perennial shrub which has a structure similar to a brush, with straight pedicles and evergreen, tender twigs. ARTES, has isolated strains and developed an enzymatic process which uses proprietary enzymatic cocktail branded as GINEXTRA® with high performance as ligninase but which does not effect cellulose and allows the extraction of intact high-quality fibers. The fiber extracted has a great interest in many industries starting form textile. Spanish Broom plants are often found growing together as dense thickets, in waste areas, abandoned pastures, and roadsides, preferring poor, infertile soils. Its penetrating root structure indicates that Spanish Broom is an important pioneer species, holding together poor soils and preventing erosion. It is indigenous to temperate Europe, northern as well as in South Asia, such as in Tajikistan, but also it spontaneously grows in Latin America, such as Paraguay.  

  The GINEXTRA® technology uses only the annual growth of the wild plant which is collected to clean the forests and avoid dangerous fire during summer. Nevertheless, it is to be highlighted that the GINEXTRA® technology has already been tested with good results with Esparto Grass (a well-known shrub which grows in million hectares in North Africa, and South Europe).  
  The technology available at pilot scale has allowed producing high-quality textile fibre, which was industrially spun and weaved.  
  In order to maximise the cost-efficiency of the valuable fiber extracted and enhance the competitiveness of the whole value chain, a research programme was developed to investigate and obtain high-value marketable bioproducts from the solid and liquid waste of the primary bio refinery process (maceration liquid and solid waste). Thanks to this research programme an evaluation of valuable intermediate products suitable to produce biochemicals and platform molecules available after the fiber extraction was obtained at the end of 2015.  
  The research programme concluded in 2016 allowed the extraction and purification of lignin, hemicellulose, cellulose pulp and the production of bio paper using solid waste. With liquid waste, bacterial cellulose was produced at a cost which is 39% lower form standard international costs. Beside the production at industrial scale of high-quality yarns, fabrics and garments, the side streams obtained have been already tested to produce valuable biochemical such as bacterial cellulose, at lab scale.

IV. Side stream valorization: the project VALUE FROM WASTE | VA-WA

One of the projects conceived and recently submitted by ARTES and its international network, within the BBI-JU the last call, is the project VALUE FROM WASTE | VA-WA – Upscale and integrate multipurpose modular bio-refinery to produce high value-added materials from wastes originating from renewable plant biomass”.  

  VA-WA‘s goal is to value neglected resources, such as Spartium junceum or esparto grass, growing in poor marginal soils and preventing extension of desertification, in north Africa, the Euro-Mediterranean countries, and South Asia. It addresses also another challenge: to demonstrate feasible responses to the severe problems of the European economic and societal model which has a huge impact on the poorest countries which supply us vital mass commodities. Untreated waste left after agri-food commodities which are processed and imported to Europe could become valuable factories of healthy biochemicals. These biochemicals could be processed to produce biomaterials which will hasten job creation and enterprise creation, preserving landscape resilience and maintaining a healthy planet for the benefit of all. This is why the VA-WA has included partners from Turkey and from Burundi. They will be our companions in addressing the challenge of the project while attesting to their historical contributions to the European civilisation. This is the ambition of VA-WA: to demonstrate that answers are available if the a correct approach is assumed! Furthermore, VA-WA addresses the challenge of giving breath to the courage of micro and small enterprises (MSMEs). By theory, we know very well that while SMEs are territorial in that they grow in symbiosis with the community in which they are created (see the European project Regard Croises:; big multinationals corporates act globally; they move anywhere there are the most convenient externalities to maximise profit. Very often MSMEs do not seek maximisation of profit. They have a core mission to create value and a better life for the families and the communities in which they live. This project has the ambition to combine the interests of local rural precious ecosystems and global perspective of sustainable management of materials. We wish to develop a small/medium sized pilot biorefinery plant compatible with a diverse set of side stream valorisation technologies, in a perspective of Z waste and Z impact on landscape resilience. We were born micro, we are growing with the ambition to create a global value chain. Wherever such a bio-refinery is built, it will use local biomasses, extract biochemicals and exchange geographically unique products on a global scale. Our technology allows a feasible Km zero model without missing global exchange of goods, services, and people.

Project Ginestra enters the second phase – Activating Innovation

The Background

After almost 15 years at the lead of the project Ginestra and a patented bio-refinery process, ARTES and its international network of laboratories and universities are about to scale up to pilot production. Thanks to the funding from the Region of Calabria, the research is now heading towards the industrialisation of the already discovered enzymatic process and the extension of the same process to other Mediterranean shrubs besides the Spartium Juniceum. A part of the research will also focus on the possible extraction of biochemicals and biomaterials from the waste resulting from the main process, and their potential for other applications. This task is in the hands of ARTES’ Polish partners at the IBWCH – Institute of Biopolymers and Chemical Fibres in Lodz.

Among the protagonists of this second part of the project, and in charge of a fully automated biorefinery pilot plant, are ARTES’ Tunisian partners ENISo – Ecole Nationale d’Ingénieurs de Sousse and ATI ENGINEERING, whose representatives came to Italy last week for a Study Visit.

The Study Visit

The delegation was composed by:

The organisers Lilia Infelise and Sergio Tinelli, respectively President and Co-Founder of ARTES;

Ahmed KTARI, Dr.-Ing. in Materials engineering and Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering by ENISo

Sabrine IBRAHIM, Student in Mechatronics Engineering and Design of Mechatronic Systems

Omar CHAHATA, Mechanical Engineer at ATI ENGINEERING and former ENISo Student.

Marzo Maiocchi, Antonio Mauro, Enrico Lapadula representatives of ATI ENGINEERING.

11:05 active cells2

Program of the Visit


 Monday, May 11

ENISo and ATI ENGINEERING landed at Marconi Airport from Tunis and together with the ARTES team, they drove to the laboratories of Active Cells, inside the Centre for Advanced Biotechnologies of Genoa. Giancarlo Dondo, chair of Active Cells, and his team welcomed them and introduced the key activities of the laboratory and results achieved in the project. The ENISo team illustrated the pilot plant project, and the whole team discussed on key strategic decision about the technological solutions.

11:05 active cells


Tuesday, May 12

The Tunisian Delegation and the ARTES team joined the Leader of the agronomic component of the project, Prof. Amaducci (UNICAT – Piacenza) and prof. Federico Preti (University of Florence) to discuss the five pilot experimental locations for the cultivation and harvesting of Ginestra in Italy. The meeting took place in the suggestive Park of Monte Sole, a historical site on the hills surrounding Bologna. After a brunch served in a lovely countryside atmosphere, the delegation visited the bio-refinery labs of the DICAM – UNIBO, accompanied by prof. Lorenzo Bertini from UNIBO.

12:05 monte sole

12:05 dicam



Wednesday, May 13

The delegation flew to Calabria, where it took some time to discuss the first days of work, plan the following, and met with local stakeholders.


Thursday, May 14

In the morning, the delegation visited the Experimental Demonstration Centre ARSAC -CDS in San Marco Argentano (CS), location of the first generation bio-refinery pilot plant patented in 2008. Later on, the delegation headed to the research centre of ENEA – TRISAIA and was welcomed by Giacobbe Braccio, head of the centre and accompanied by a team of technologists visited laboratories.

14:05 arsac

14:05 arsac3

14:05 enea 5


Study Visit in EAC – Bujumbura and Nairobi

Two more days in Bujumbura

On February 23rd, after the workshop the Italian delegation and Prof. Déo Gratias Nkihamira (President of the Italian – Burundian association Africa Renaissance Time) visited the EU Delegation for a meeting with Head of the Rural Development, Infrastructure and Energy Department Paul Vossen and the  Project Manager for Infrastructure Egide Niyogusaba. The discussion focused on the instrument of Delegated Cooperation, on the presentation of the Excellence Centre in the Field of Construction Technologies and Materials – CRTM, and it’s introduction in the next Strategic Programme, to be approved in April. A further step for the realisation of the CRTM in EAC would be visiting the EU Delegation in Dar Es Saalam.

Starting from February 24th, the Delegation engaged directly with the territory: the agreement with the DICAM for the realisation of the CRTM was written down in detail and presented to the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Equipment. The Delegation visited the laboratories at the Ministry and at the University of Bujumbura, as well as the areas along the river Rusizi and on the shores of the Tanganyika Lake. The field visit led to a specific agreement with the University of Florence, for the study of appropriate methods and technologies for the management of hydrogeological hazard and conservation of the landscape of the hill area next to the city of Bujumbura. During these days the Delegation also studied the local context and identified the primary need in terms of energy.





The last leg: Kenya

On February 26th the Delegation reached Nairobi, where it almost immediately met with the representatives of the ABSF (African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum), led by Kennedy Oyugi, Director of Scinnovent Centre and representative of CABE (African Bio-Entrepreneurship). ARTES presented the project N4F and invited the ABSF to the next study visit in Tunisia, where a specific agreement for the realisation of the project has already been signed.

The next day started with a meeting at EU Delegation in Kenya, represented by Sanne Willems and Anne Chaussavoine (both Programme Manager Infrastructure Section). Again, ARTES and its partners presented the project for the Burundian CRTM, discussed the regional strategy for the EAC and the Delegated Cooperation. The Italian Delegation also remarked that the priority will be given to the Energy sector, and responsible for the coordination of this action will be the EU Delegation in Dar Es Salaam, while the EU Delegation in Kenya would have a national focus.




Right after the first meeting the Italian Delegation visited the Italian Embassy in Nairobi and met with the Ambassador Mauro Massoni, the Sales Executive Paolo Rotili, and Rita Ricciardi, the President of the Italian – Kenyan Trade Association. ARTES, remarking the specificity of the country and its great potential for a bilateral cooperation with Italy, suggested the possibility of realising in Kenya the project N4F and to create in the EAC a network of excellence centres, placing the centre for Energy in Kenya and the one for Technology of Materials and Constructions in Burundi.




Later on, the Italian Delegation was welcomed at EACCIA – East Africa Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture, by Charles Kahuthu, CEO and Regional Coordinator. During the meeting the long exchange started in March 2014 at the EU – African Business Forum was consolidated, and the following topics were discusses: EACCIA support to the CRTM as national and international centre of excellence, to be built in Burundi in order to avoid a duplication of the efforts; the creation of a regional seminary, in cooperation with all the stakeholders and aimed at present the possibility of financing the research driven cluster N4F in Kenya.


The last meeting of the day, and of the mission, was again with Rita Ricciardi (President of the Italian – Kenyan Trade Association) and David Kimosop, CEO of Kerio Development Authority (public development agency for North Kenya). The meeting concerned the possibility of organising a study visit in Italy for a better insight on ARTES’ on going projects ALLIANCE e N4F, as well as an in depth discussion with Rita Ricciardi about the internationalisation of Italian enterprises, and the possibility of a Memorandum of Understanding with ARTES for the creation of a joint venture in the field of internationalisation in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Report (EN) Study Visit in EAC – 22-27 FEBR 2015

Report (ITA) – Vista di Studio in EAC – 22-27 FEBR 2015