On April 16th Agroils inaugurates a biorefinery demo-plant for producing industrial oil and other components from jatrofa, a non-food plant. Agroils is a young biotech company in the biofuels sector, established in 2011 at Incubatore Firenze. It is the first SpA (company limited by shares) registered as an Italian ‘innovative start-up’. 

In the first year, the company had collected around 1 million Euro to develop its project from the following private investors: X Capital SpA, Innogest SGR srl and Italian Angels for Grow. In 2012, it obtained about 400K Euro from Bando unico per la ricerca e sviluppo (an R&D call) of the Region of Tuscany. The aim was to build a bio-refinery demo-plant for the jatropha processing and to achieve other technological and employment objectives.

The company is based on a technology developed in California by Roberto Crea (current Agroils Chairman), who is a scientist in the biotechnology area and the inventor of numerous processes (35 US Patents). He is also the author of the first recombinant production of Human Insulin at Genentech, California.
The company was born when Roberto met Giovanni Venturini Del Greco – pioneer in the jatropha industry and founder of numerous jatropha companies – now the Agroils CEO.

Jatropha, a non-food plant, has peculiar features: it grows also in arid and semi-arid climate and it can produce industrial oil. What remains after the oil extraction are bioactives usable in the pharmaceutical industry, and a high value protein cake. It can be used as an animal feed, provided to remove certain toxic residues. This problem has been solved with the technology developed by Roberto in California. He implemented this innovative process to optimise the production of olive oil. The process developed by Agroils is internationally patented.

The Agroils business is international: in addition to the main office in Sesto Fiorentino (Florence, Italy), other two locations – one in California (USA) and one in the Dominican Republic – were opened. “We chose Tuscany for our headquarter as in Tuscany there is a widespread know-how for the olive oil processes and in the pharmaceutical industry – Giovanni says – we accepted also the challenge of creating here a successful innovative start-up and we won it.”

Agroils strengthened its team, which is now made up of 3 PhDs, 3 Engineers, 2 Biologists and other people. Antonio Mele – PhD in Chemistry – has recently been involved as a CTO. He is the former Vice President of Menarini, a leading italian pharmaceutical company. “We also helped to reverse the brain drain employing an Italian biotech researcher from the Netherlands ”, Giovanni adds.

The company is now waiting for funds from the European Union. It submitted two 9M Euro proposals, creating for this purpose an association among Chinese partners and another among Greek, Cameroon, Caribbean (Haiti) and Moroccan partners.

The aim of Agroils is to become the leading technological partner in the Jatropha sector and to unlock the potentials of Jatropha by making Jatropha the most sustainable source of high value products.

In the picture from left: Roberto Crea and Giovanni Venturini Del Greco

Elisabetta Bevilacqua