Against a background clearly dominated by the formerly state-owned, Oil & Gas and Power incumbents, the existence of a district connecting the significant number of energetic ventures that were beginning to spring up in the Italian North West, driven by far-seeing farmers, as well as by leading industrial groups, looked like a good idea.
Within half an hour's drive from Tortona, between Piedmont and Lombardy, in the centre of the fertile Po valley, most of the key technologies are represented, from biofuels (cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, vegetable oils) to anaerobic digestion, from biomass gasification to high-performance combustion.
With the view of showcasing innovating agroenergetic technologies and solutions, Mostra Convegno Agroenergia (Agroenergia - Conference and Exhibition) was launched in 2008 as the first Italian exclusively dedicated to the Agroenergy industry.
The success of this event, as well as the example set by a few farsighted entrepreneurs with the courage of launching into agroenergetic ventures in the absence of a clear supportive legislative framework, was instrumental in connoting the North Western district as the irradiation focus for agricultural renewable energies in Italy.
The subsequent introduction of the popular € 0.28/Kw feed-in tariff for the energy produced from renewable feedstock not exceeding 1 Mwh, could not have happened without the endeavours of a handful of people, deserving their due credit.
The dynamic president of the farmers union Confagricoltura, Federico Vecchioni, was from the onset a strong believer in the great opportunity that renewable energies can represent for farmers.
In fact, Confagricoltura was the first to use the term agroenergy, when its association Agroenergia was created, led by Andrea Pannocchieschi d'Elci.
The first biogas pioneer in Piedmont, Mimmo Bianchi is also a prominent member of Confagricoltura's board. A dairy farmer with some 400 heads, Mimmo built his first anaerobic digester in 2006, with a production capacity of 600 Kw, which he subsequently doubled a year later.
While the role of distributed co-generation, the on-farm energy, is obtaining widespread recognition, key to the success of an agroenergetic district is the interplay between various tiers within the industry. This is why the relationships between agroenergetic farmers and industrial businesses in the renewable energies should be a distinctive feature in the life of the district..
Guido Ghisolfi, Vice-President of the M&G Group, a global producer of PET-based polymers, first took on the challenge of developing a European technology for ethanol biofuel in 2006, through the company's Chemtex subsidiary, acquired in 2004. A firm believer in the potential of vegetable feedstocks for a "green" chemical industry, Guido had a dream: to become a global competitor in the ethanol market, with the use of European-grown feedstocks.
With the kick-off of the new state-of-the-art cellulosic ethanol plant well on schedule due in mid-2011, this dream seems close to becoming reality.
Claudio Rocchietta, CEO of Oxem has been involved in biodiesel for the past 20 years. OXEM was founded in 2006 with the goal of becoming a leading player in the Italian and European biodiesel market. The biodiesel production was started in 2009.
Fabrizio Longa, a manager with a long standing background in energy, was appointed to lead Piedmont's Innovation Pole for Biofuels and Photovoltaic (PST)in Tortona in 2009. Under his guidance, PST is fulfilling its mission of consolidating research efforts in renewable energies under a common strategic framework.
Alessandro Arioli is an agronomist with far reaching interests. From Capo Verde to Romania, from Africa to Cuba, Alessandro is busy pioneering innovative concepts for water conservation, better use of soil, as well as more efficient power production. With Federico Radice Fossati, Alessandro was co-founder of EnergEtica.