Realcat—creating tomorrow today in Lille Region
11 Aug 2014 | A region on the move, Advanced Materials
The Realcat platform—the only laboratory of its kind in the world—is developing catalytic processes for the industrial biorefineries that will create tomorrow’s energy, food and healthcare. And Northern France is making it possible.
Tomorrow’s innovation today
With the world running out of oil, we need new ideas for tomorrow’s energy. To invent a new kind of chemistry. To make plastics without oil, gas and coal. To create foods that fight disease and don’t exhaust our natural resources. To create innovative new advanced materials.
These are the challenges for green chemistry, and more particularly for biomass conversion, which converts organic matter to fuel in biorefineries. But the critical step in developing and processing the molecules that hold the key to all of these challenges is catalysis—an essential chemical process now being studied at Realcat, a Lille 1 University Sciences & Technology research platform housed in Lille’s Ecole Central.
Uniting four different disciplines
The project is backed by Lille’s Catalysis and Solid Chemistry Unit (CNRS/Lille 1); FIFL (Lille 1 University's Fundamental IT Laboratory); LAGIS (the Automatic Control, Computer Engineering and Signal Laboratory); and the university’s biological processes and enzyme and microbe engineering lab. “This platform is the world’s first to combine knowledge from chemistry, biotechnology, mathematics and information technology,” says Realcat project coordinator Franck Dumeignil.
Thanks to this combination of disciplines, Realcat’s Equipement d’excellence tender won Equipex certification in the second wave of the French government’s Plan d’investissement d’avenir—an honor that came with funding of €8.7 million. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) contributed another €700,000.
Using a battery of robots and other highly sophisticated equipment, Realcat researchers are working at high speed and on an industrial scale, catalyzing reactions among a variety of molecules, enzymes and yeasts and transforming them to generate benefits in energy, food, health and the environment. Project leaders have already been contacted by a leading international toymaker interested in biosourced plastics.
Integrated biorefining specialist Roquette, which is working to develop its own plant-based plastics, is interested in the platform’s resources, as is the French energy company Total, which is eager to design new green fuels. The platform will also play a critical role in energy transition research by PIVERT, an institute of excellence for plant chemistry, and IFMAS, the French Institute of Agro-Based Materials.
The Lille Region research community has a new tool to raise its international profile, and Realcat itself is a catalyst for hard work and outsized ambition.
 Realcat is a French acronym for “Advanced High-Throughput Technologies Platform for Biorefineries Catalysts Design.”
Source: Voix du Nord