KETs Impact: Turning rice straw waste into biobased chemical building blocks


The recent SusChem White paper ‘Impact: Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) in Horizon Europe’ included a number of success stories highlighting publicly funded innovation involving KETs and the SusChem Newsroom is featuring a selection of these fruitful 'SusChem inspired' initiatives.

KETs are technologies selected for their ability to address global challenges, support the development of new products, and stimulate economic growth.

Sustainable chemistry is essential to the technological advance of KETs including advanced materials, advanced manufacturing technologies, industrial biotechnology, micro and nanoelectronics, nanotechnology and photonics. SusChem's key enabling technologies provide the critical building blocks for the solutions needed to achieve a sustainable low carbon circular economy. You can find out more here.

Our KETs success story number 8 highlights the WALEVA project funded by the EU under the LIFE / LIFE+ environmental programme and the associated Spanish national research project BIOSOS that demonstrated how the environmental damage from the burning of rice straw (a waste product of rice cultivation) can be eliminated, and the waste used as raw material for the production of the biobased chemical building block levulinic acid with multiple uses in consumer products from pharmaceuticals to biofuels and polymers to food.

WALEVA Technology

Fostering a new value chain producing high value products from lignocellusic wastes

Synchronised combination of Member State and EU funding accelerates breakthrough technology to market


The aim of Técnicas Reunidas’ (TR) WALEVA technology is to transform a lignocellusic waste (rice straw) into levulinic acid, a high value-added product which is currently considered one of the 12 most promising chemical platforms according to the United States Department of Energy. Levulinic acid is a monomer subject to significant industrial demand since, after its chemical transformation, it can potentially be applied to several industrial sectors such as pharmaceuticals, fuels, polymers, food and chemistry in general.

WALEVA technology falls under biotechnology area, which is one the major Key Enabling Technologies defined by the European Commission. WALEVA has reached a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 7 and first steps to commercialisation have been taken.

How was the breakthrough innovation achieved? 

Public Private Partnerships are essential for TR’s R&I activities including the development of WALEVA technology. During the initial stages of development TR received public funding from the Spanish Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) under the CENIT Programme (large, long term, applied research, collaborative projects). After these, TR decided to go a step further in the TRL and applied for a European LIFE+ project to scale-up and demonstrate the viability of the technology in collaboration with the Centre of Scientific and Technological Research of Extremadura (CICYTEX) and the Spanish Chemical Industry Federation (FEIQUE)


WALEVA technology will foster a new value chain that will produce high value products from residues ensuring the economic feasibly for each step in the chain: farmers, waste managers, biobased industries and end-users. This business model puts into practice the concept of Circular Economy and contributes to several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as, Climate Action. 

Preliminary results demonstrate the economic feasibility of WALEVA technology for scales starting at the range of 10 000 tons of levulinic acid per year. As for market deployment, levulinic acid is expected to play a key role in the Green Chemistry megatrend. 

WALEVA will contribute significantly to improve rice sector sustainability, by reducing CO2 emissions up to an 80% compared to current practice of burning of rice straw. Moreover, WALEVA will contribute to economic development and wealth creation in rural areas that heavily depend on this crop.

More information
EU-Project 'LIFE WALEVA - From Whatever Residue into Levulinic Acid – an innovative way to turn waste into resource' (LIFE13 ENV/ES/001165)

Proyecto CENIT BIOSOS: Biorefinerias Sostenibles (CEN-20091040) financiado par Abengoa Bioenergy New technologies (ABNT) y el Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovacion del Gobierno de Espana

Read the SusChem White Paper ‘Impact: Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) in Horizon Europe