In May 2011 the Italian government, the public institutions of Sardinia, the trade unions, Novamont and Eni (with its subsidiaries Versalis, Syndial and Enipower) signed a "Memorandum of understanding-MoU for "Green Chemistry in Porto Torres", which was the starting point for a major project for the conversion of the Porto Torres petrochemical complex to a third generation bio-refinery. This was the origin of Matrìca, a 50/50 joint venture between Versalis (Eni) and Novamont, responsible for the implementation and management of the new project.
The area, polluted for years by the petrochemical complex, is identified as a Site of National Interest (SIN) - very large contaminated areas, classified as the most dangerous by the Italian State and in need of remediation of soil, underground and/or surface water and groundwater, to reduce damages to the environment and health.
The project involves the construction of seven chemical plants using vegetable oil feedstocks for the production of biochemicals (bio-plastics, bio-lubricants, additives for rubber and elastomers) and includes the installation of a biomass power plant. The biomass energy plant (205 MWt), to be managed by Eni power, will have two boilers. One will be alimented with thistle for the production of 135 MWt (then transformed in 43,5 MWe), 250.000 t/year, whose cultivation is expected to cover around 100,000 ha. The auxiliary boiler will produce 70MWt using Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), in substitution to the initial plan to use FOK (Fuel oil cracking). The project also includes reclamation of the existing plants and the construction of a research centre for new green chemistry products.
In 2011, local citizens, farmers, medical associations for the environment and social movement started to protest against the mega project. The “No Green Chemistry/No Incinerator” committee, created by local citizens after becoming aware of the MoU, is strongly against the project and raised several criticisms. Firstly regarding the lack of information on the reclamation process (data, technical procedures, extent of land involved) that should be provided urgently by ENI in the high polluted area. There are 3,000 ha of intensely polluted land. Secondly, the biomass plant would require an extensive cultivation of thistle that would invade the island crops. Moreover the plan is not accepted by local farmers. A dreaded alternative could be to feed the plant with solid urban waste (or a mixture of biomass and waste), allowed by the Italian law (Legislative Decree 6th of July 2012), in contravention with European legislation . In addition, the complex will release emissions in the air that will sum to the existing contamination provoked in the last years by ENI activities in the area, still waiting to be reclaimed.
Different Environmental Impact Assessments – (EIAs) were presented to the SAVI (the regional office for environmental impacts assessment) to obtain the authorization to convert the chemical plant and for the new biomass power plant. Local committees and medical organizations mobilized, sending formal observations to the EIAs presented. In December 2011, Matrica Spa obtained a positive opinion on the EIA by the Region for "Installations for production of monomers and biodegradable lubricants from natural vegetable oils”. Then Matrica obtained the authorization and in 2012 the construction begun. In June 2014 Matrìca's first green chemistry plant was inaugurated.
In July 2012 the EIA process related to the biomass power plant managed by Enipower started. The project to feed the plant with biomass and FOK has been criticized by ISDE (The International Society of Doctors for the Environment) through official observation to the SAVI [ISDE Observations 2011, 2012, 2013]. After a negative opinion received by the Region on the use of FOK, Eni power presented in 2013 an integration to the EIA replacing the Fuel Oil Cracking with LPG. The Region approved the new power plant project, which is waiting for the final authorization by the Regional Department of Industry.