Among the 12 winners of the Étoiles de l’Europe (Stars of Europe) prizes this year are two bioeconomy projects led by INRAE, with a focus on the reduction of waste for a circular economy. According to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), a circular economy is an economic system of exchange and production that seeks to use resources more efficiently and reduce environmental impact while enhancing individual well-being at all product lifecycle stages (for both goods and services).
What are the Stars of Europe prizes?
The Étoiles de l’Europe (Stars of Europe) prize ceremony has been held each year since 2013 by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation as a way to connect research and Europe. The prize honours French researchers for their commitment towards Europe. It recognises research teams coordinated by a lead institution of a French research project which has won a European call for projects and carried out the project to term.
Project evaluation: The independent jury examines criteria that considers the scientific production quality; value creation; the project’s societal scope, pluridisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity; the gender perspective and the number of women in the project; support for training of young people and job creation; the degree of international focus; the project preparation process ahead of the call for projects; and adherence to open science principles.
Special jury prize - Zero Waste Lignocellulosic Biorefineries by Integrated Lignin Valorisation: ZELCOR
ZELCOR follows a circular economy approach, with the aim to convert industrial co-products from wood and straw into high value-added bioproducts for cosmetics, packaging and chemistry. The co-products studied were lignin-rich residues left over from paper pulp and bioethanol production, as well as humins derived from sugar. These waste products are insoluble and are not easily broken down by common biomass treatments. To overcome these difficulties, various chemical and biological processes were combined within a vertically integrated system. The system includes insect-based streams that convert residues into chitin for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, packaging and animal feed applications.
Open Science prize - the No Agricultural Waste project develops innovative approaches to turn agricultural waste into ecological and economic assets: NoAW
The aim of this project is to identify innovative approaches based on circular economy principles to reduce and put to use all the waste generated by the agricultural and food sectors. New knowledge, methods and tools have been developed to turn waste from wheat (straw), livestock (manure) or winegrowing (vine shoots) into eco-friendly bioplastics, biofertilisers and biogas.
The DIVA project (boosting innovative digitech value chains for agrifood, forestry and environment) coordinated by the Agri Sud-Ouest Innovation competitiveness hub also received a prize. INRAE is proud of this honour, which was received one month after the signature of a partnership agreement between INRAE and the Agri Sud-Ouest Innovation and Valorial competitiveness hubs to speed up innovation in the agricultural and agri-food sectors.
ZELCOR designed new processes and products at both the lab and pilot levels. The pluridisciplinary knowledge generated by the project has been transferred to industrial players in five promising value chains. Some of the key achievements include the production of a new enzyme that increases lignin solubility, new packaging materials that repel insects and fully biobased nanocomposites, the demonstration of the potential of lignin and humin products as active ingredients in cosmetics (anti-UV, antioxidants), and the design of a bioreactor driven by termites fed using lignocellulosic waste which should offer economic benefits in the near future.
Among NoAW’s results are many prototypes (49) and pilot plants (113), including three that are under development and in the process of commercialisation by SMEs. One major breakthrough was the creation of a two-phase pilot anaerobic digestion unit at a vineyard in Verona, Italy. The unit converts manure, straw and winegrowing waste into biogas for the car industry and natural gas network, and into digestate and volatile fatty acids for the integrated production of a biodegradable polyester in natural conditions.
Diversity, openness and continuity of European research
Transferring knowledge and strengthening the connection between research and training were two key priorities for ZELCOR. Doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows, engineers and graduate students were involved in the project. The project led to the creation of a European master’s degree and an open-access e-book . The work carried out within the European thematic networks since 2003 gave Stéphanie Baumberger, professor at AgroParisTech, an opportunity to set up a research consortium following the collaborative efforts. The project’s European dimension provided the necessary complementary expertise and stakeholders to keep it firmly anchored in the reality of the European bioeconomy by capitalising on biorefineries that are under development. For Stéphanie Baumberger, this prize recognises the commitment of her research team and long-term collaborators to develop a research topic that can unite teams and inspire innovation.
Who is Stéphanie Baumberger ?
Stéphanie Baumberger is a specialist in lignins. Fascinated by the complexity and multifaceted nature of these plant-derived polymers, she strives to exploit all their functionalities by investigating their structure and characteristics. She draws from green chemistry principles to teach her master’s level engineering students about new biomass processing strategies to tackle the challenges of the bioeconomy.
The multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary approach used by NoAW was strengthened by its international scope. NoAW brought together 32 academic and industrial partners from Europe, China and Taiwan. The project was coordinated by research director Nathalie Gontard, who previously received a Stars of Europe prize in 2015 for the EcoBioCAP project. The network of partners created for that project was further expanded for NoAW. Drawing on the ties forged via this network of Chinese partners, another project is expected to come to fruition as part of Horizon Europe. For Nathalie Gontard, this Stars of Europe prize is both an acknowledgement and encouragement to pursue our work beyond our borders.
Who is Nathalie Gontard ?
Nathalie Gontard is a pioneer in the world of packaging. Concerned with the amount of plastic waste accumulating in oceans and on land, she invents innovative biodegradable packaging materials and is looking for ways to anticipate the impacts it will have over its lifecycle. Inspired by techniques discovered over the course of her travels, Nathalie has always been looking far afield and into the future. Discover her portrait
H2020 project no. 720303
Coordinator: Stéphanie Baumberger, professor of green chemistry at AgroParisTech and director of an INRAE-AgroParisTech research team.
Lead institution for the project: INRAE
Budget: European contribution of €5,256,993 (BBI JU)
Partners: 17 (6 research organisations, 8 SMEs and 2 companies)
Find out more: www.zelcor.eu
H2020 project no. 688338
Coordinator: Nathalie Gontard, research director at INRAE
Lead institution for the project: INRAE
European budget: €7,816,232
Continental China, Hong Kong, Taiwan budget estimated at 30% of the European consortium budget.
Duration: 4 years, 4 months (4-month extension due to Covid-19)
Partners: 16 research organisations, 13 SMEs, 2 French companies
Find out more: https://noaw2020.eu/