LIFE Project Cover Photo

Vapour Phase Bioreactors for Agro-non-Food Industries

Reference: LIFE03 ENV/P/000521 | Acronym: SONATURA



Recent EU legislation (notably Council Directives 1999/13/EC and 2001/81/EC) will result in the reduction of the total amount of Volatile Organic Carbons (VOCs) released into the atmosphere. To meet the requirements of the EU’s ecolabel, companies must meet targets for the reduction of emissions of air pollutants, in particular VOCs. Operators have been given a limited period of time to adapt to these stringent requirements. The leather industry has to respect the new emissions limits, particularly with regard to the industrial activities involved in the finishing process. Most gaseous emissions are produced during the finishing processes, which entails the use of spray-painting machines that apply solvent based products (e.g. pigments, dyes and lacquers) to the final leather product. Emissions generated during this phase depend on the type of chemical used. In the cork industrial sector, part of the industrial process, independently of the potential benefits introduced from clean processing, will generate VOCs; this is the case of solvent based resins used for cork agglomeration. These new pieces of legislation provide a framework for a mass balance exercise, embracing all industrial operator emissions (total emissions = fugitive emissions + waste gas emissions). They also set national emissions caps for certain atmospheric pollutants, including VOCs, to come into force by 2010 at the latest. In Europe, current legal requirements set 2007 as the deadline for adoption of measures to control industrial gaseous emissions containing VOCs for certain industrial sectors (e.g., paint & varnish). Existing installations must comply with currently established legal requirements no later than 31 October 2007.


The "SoNatura" project aimed to anticipate future legislation by promoting clean processing and good environmental practices with the application of Best Available Technologies (BAT) in an industrial sector where Portugal is one of the world market leaders. The application of Vapour Phase Bioreactors (VPBs) for the elimination of VOCs in gaseous emissions is an emerging practice that is already well established in Central Europe and US. The main objectives of the project were as follows: • To develop Vapour Phase Bioreactors - VPBs - for the treatment of air emissions from Agro-non-Food Industries (AnFI). • To demonstrate and validate the application of a BAT in the targeted industrial sector through the use of a prototype VPB. • To raise awareness about air pollution problems in the AnFI sector with a view to widening the application of VPBs to different industrial sectors. • To develop highly skilled human resources on VPBs. • To promote the application of VPBs through a range of dissemination activities (seminars, best practices manuals, etc.). • To generate cooperation between industry and universities.


The "SoNatura" project has successfully demonstrated that the application of Vapour Phase Bioreactors is an effective technology for air pollution control (in leather and cork industry segments) and has contributed to strengthening the links between the university and the industrial partners (industrial sectors and the technological centers). It has raised attention to the potential benefits associated with the implementation of VPB, when compared to the commonly used technique (e.g. incineration). It has also indicated that there is a potential for VPB units within the target industrial segments. The application of VPBs for gas emission control were tested on Agro-non-Food Industries (AnFI) – Granotec (cork industry) and Marsipel (leather industry) and this was followed by dissemination campaigns at targeted industrial sectors. These campaigns were coordinated by the respective technological centres, namely CTCOR (cork industry) and CTIC (leather industry). The main achievements of the project were as follows: - The project has contributed to the development and dissemination of novel technologies for the reduction of gaseous emissions in the leather and cork industries (mainly emissions that arise from the painting cabins for the former and those that arise from the mixing of granulated cork for the latter). - The project has demonstrated that the application of VPBs is an effective technology for air pollution control. The outlet emission values were below the established legal limits. - The VPB was shown to be applicable to both case studies. However, it was recommended that further studies should be carried to determine the feasibility of widening its application. In addition, the application of VPBs to other emissions sources could also be investigated. - The project also allowed for the improvement of the relations between universities/technological centres and industry, involving skilled and well-trained human resources. - Through dissemination actions and visits to the VPBs prototypes, awareness of the environmental problem and its cost-effective solution was successfully raised. With regard to socio-economic effects, when compared to competing treatment technologies, VPBs have economic advantages due to: i) low capital costs, and ii) low operating costs, since they operate at ambient temperatures and pressures. The project has contributed to the analysis of the economic benefits of VPBs and it was expected that this analysis would benefit from the continuing operation of the bioreactors at the industrial premises after the project has ended. Moreover, the installation of the bioreactors at the industrial premises has contributed to the improvement of the surrounding air quality, benefiting the well being of the workers and surrounding populations. The environmental and health benefits that can derive from implementing the VPB prototypes are therefore another important result of the project. Due to the encouraging results, all of the participants indicated their interest in continuing the project. A detailed "After LIFE Communication Plan" was drawn up. It was proposed that the VPBs prototypes could be exposed to further tests to increase understanding about their operation under various scenarios: - The Marsipel VPB prototype was to be sequentially exposed to increasingly higher flows, with a view to understanding its operational limits when exposed to flows more similar to those found in industrial cabins. - The Granotec VPB prototype was to be exposed to sequentially higher flows and to longer shutdown periods with a view to understanding the need for reactor reinoculation. This project has been selected as one of the 22 "Best" LIFE Environment projects in 2006-2007


Reference: LIFE03 ENV/P/000521
Start Date: 01/09/2003
End Date: 30/11/2005
Total Eligible Budget: 404,840 €
EU Contribution: 202,420 €
Project Location:


Coordinating Beneficiary: Universidade Católica Portuguesa - Escola Superior de Biotecnologia
Legal Status: OTHER
Address: Rua Dr. António Bernardino de Almeida, 4200-072, Porto,
Contact Person: Paula CASTRO
Email: Send Email
Website: Visit Website

LIFE Project Map



  • Air pollutants
  • Food and Beverages
  • Leather and Footwear


  • agroindustry
  • volatile organic compound


  • Directive 1999/13 - Limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations (11.03.1999)


Name Type
Universidade Católica Portuguesa - Escola Superior de Biotecnologia Coordinator
CTCOR – Centro Tecnológico da Cortiça (P) Participant
GRANOTEC – Importação e Exportação de Granulados Técnicos de Cortiça, SA (P) Participant
CTIC – Centro Tecnológico das Indústrias do Couro (P) Participant
MARSIPEL – Indústria de Curtumes, SA (P) Participant


Type Resource
Brochure Best Practice Manuals on VPA applications and operation
Publication Treatment of gaseous emission containing toluene in a Suspended Growth Bioreactor
Publication Layman report