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WALEVA, an EU-funded Project, Aims to Convert Residual Rice Straw into Levulinic Acid

Published on 2015-09-16. Author : SpecialChem

MADRID -- The Spanish Business Federation of Chemical Industry (FEIQUE) is collaborating with the Industrial Engineering Group Técnicas Reunidas and the Scientific and Technological Research Centre of Extremadura (CICYTEX), in the WALEVA project development with the objective of valorizing the rice straw residue by converting it into levulinic acid, a highly demanded product by industry. This solution will furthermore entail a sustainable alternative to the burning of the residue, a common practice in the rice growing areas with a high environmental impact. The initiative, which started in June 2014 and will end on September 2017, is financed by the European Commission’s LIFE Program, targeted at environmental projects.

Residual Rice Straw into Chemical
Fig. 1: WALEVA project: Residual Rice Straw into Chemical

he WALEVA project integrates the development of a pilot plant –currently in the design phase- in the José Lladó Technological Centre in Madrid that will apply technology developed by Técnicas Reunidas for the production of levulinic acid parting from any agricultural residue or lignocellulosic material. This demo plant, which will integrate an innovative chemical process, intends to demonstrate that this conversion technology can solve a known environmental problem in a viable way for its future implementation. In a posterior phase, the challenge will be in showing that this technology is easily transferable to other European regions with the same environmental problem and thus promote its introduction.

Valorizing the rice straw residue will enable generating high value added products from the introduction of a new value chain. Levulinic acid, the chemical product resulting from the reuse of this natural resource is a chemical monomer highly demanded by industry due to the many possibilities it offers in different applications for industrial sectors such as the pharmaceutical, biodiesels, polymers, food and chemistry in general

The initiative will contribute to finding a sustainable solution to the burning of a troublesome residue that affects the rice industry in different Spanish regions like Extremadura, Andalucía, Ebro river basin and Albufera in Valencia. WALEVA is supported by the Extremadura region due by its main rice production area, Don Benito, through the rice farmers association. Although alternatives to burning rice residues have been researched, no economically viable and useful chemical technology has yet been found for rice growers.

The burning of the residues created by this crop generates carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere without control. Rice production in the European Union surpassed 3 million tons in 2012. Taking into account that every ton of rice produced generates 0,8 tons of straw residue, around 2.4-1,2 million tons of residues are generated annually which in turn emit over 4 million tons of C02 during the agricultural residue burning according to data offered by the EU. In Spain only, there are about 105.000 Has of land used for rice crops which means that 577.000 tons of rice straw are generated and 985.000 tons of CO2 emitted.

The project includes six major development actions:
1. Collection and treatment of the residue
2. Design and construction of a storage module
3. Pilot plant design
4. Pilot plant procurement and construction
5. Pilot plant demonstration of a levulinic acid innovative production technology
6. Viability studies

About the European Commission LIFE Program

The LIFE program is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action for the European Union. Since its beginning in 1992, LIFE has co-financed some 4.000 projects across the EU, contributing approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment and climate.

The LIFE program will contribute to sustainable development and to the achievement of the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, as well as other relevant EU environment and climate strategies and plans linked to the environmental and climate change issues.

The ‘Environment’ theme of the new program covers three priority areas: environment and resource efficiency; nature and biodiversity; and environmental governance and information. The ‘Climate Action’ theme covers climate change mitigation; climate change adaptation; and climate governance and information.

About the Project’s promoters


Técnicas Reunidas is an international general contractor, engaging in the engineering, design and construction of various types of industrial facilities for a broad spectrum of customers throughout the world, including many of the principal national oil companies as well as several multinational companies and important Spanish groups.

Most of TR’s business is concentrated on large turnkey industrial projects, although they also provide all type of engineering, management, start-up and operating services for industrial plants.

TR is one of the leaders for engineering and construction in the oil and gas sector in Spain, one of the leaders in Europe in the design and construction of oil and gas facilities, and one of the world leaders in the refining sector.

Técnicas Reunidas owns a Technological Centre in San Fernando de Henares, where the R&D+i core is located. The José LLadó Technological Centre occupies a Surface of over 5.000 m2, with specially equipped laboratories, pilot plants and even a workshop for prototype manufacture.

Over 70 specialized people work there including graduates and Ph.D.’s in different disciplines (chemical, industrial, aeronautical and agricultural engineers, different specialized chemists, and physicists), laboratory technicians and administration personnel conforming thus one of its main traits: versatility. This enables the Centre to perform research and development tasks at any level from the lab to the test running and demonstration to applying the basic or advanced engineering of the chosen option.

Técnicas Reunidas, S.A is 100 % Spanish. Since its creation, the TR group of companies has designed and built more than 1.000 industrial plants.


El Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas de Extremadura (CICYTEX) is an independent organization of the Extremadura Government, linked to its Economy, competitiveness and Innovation Office. CICYTEX is composed of The Institute of Agricultural Research, La Orden-Valdesequera, The Agrofood Technology Institute of Extremadura (INTAEX) and the Cork, Wood and vegetable carbon Institute (ICMC).

CICYTEX was created in accordance to the Law for Science and Technology of Extremadura Ley de la Ciencia, la Tecnología y la Innovación de Extremadura, to unify all scientific resources in a single and more efficient organism. Its purpose was to improve coordination of the research in the areas of agriculture, livestock farming. Agrifood business and grasslands.

As a general objective, CICYTEX intends to support the business sector in Extremadura for the incorporation of R&D+i to its productive processes.


FEIQUE represents Spanish Chemical Industry, a sector composed of over 3.100 companies, with an annual revenue of 56.400 million euros that generates 12, 4% of the Industrial Gross Product in Spain and 540.000 direct, indirect and induced employments. The Chemical Industry is the second largest exporter in Spanish economy and the first investor in R&D+i and environmental protection.

The chemical industry manufactures the products that ensure our quality of life. It covers from our most basic needs like health, food, hygiene, to those that allow us to enjoy a better wellbeing. Without the contribution of chemistry, our life expectancy would not surpass 40 years and it provides health solutions, multiplies crops and provides us with drinkable water.

FEIQUE manages the Responsible Care Programme. RC aims at continuously improving environmental protection, Safety and Health prevention in chemical companies according to the principles of Sustainable Development.


FEIQUE representing the Spanish chemical industry, a sector composed of more than 3,100 companies with an annual turnover of 56,400 million euros, generating 12.4% of the Gross Industrial Product, and 540,000 jobs in Spain. The chemical sector is the second largest exporter of the Spanish economy and the largest investor in R & D and Environmental Protection.

Source: FEIQUE 

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