Zero-waste, no pollution & “green” power in production of essential oils in Serbia

The endless fields of immortelle and lavender, where this aromatic herb is carefully cultivated and harvested, only this time not an attraction in the Mediterranean, but in Eastern Serbia. In the town of Gornja Mutnica, in the vicinity of Paracin, on about 315 hectares of plantations of the Serbian-Belgian company Sanicula, other Mediterranean cultures such as lemon balm, thyme and heather are organically grown. After the harvest season, these plants are distilled into essential oils which, due to their quality, are attractive for customers on the world market.

There are benefits for the local community too. Firstly, this company employs about 200 families from nearby villages. Every morning, they start the day with a cup of coffee that Novica Šutić, founder and owner of the company, serves to his employees.

– It’s my fifth season here. It can be hard work, but it is relaxing for your mind and brain. Jokes, laughter and days go by – says one of the workers in the fields of Sanicula.

While developing his business, Šutić came up with a formula that allows him to give nature something in return in the environment where he operates.

The entire production process is complete – from raw materials to the establishment of plantations, the use of own machinery, planting, processing, maintenance of plantations, harvesting and extracting of essential oils from Mediterranean aromatic plants.

Seeing that distillation of plants into essential oils generates a large amount of waste, i.e. biomass, the company team has decided to make bio-pellet from it. The technology of bio-pellet production from aromatic plant waste is very similar to the production of wood pellets, and this facility near Paraćin is the first of its kind in Serbia.

– The growth of the company, the constant expanding of plantations and the search for affordable and clean energy at the same time have made us start experimenting with biomass. After our first analyses showed that our bio-pellet had a high calorific value, everything started to come together – Novica explains.

Sanikula uses bio-pellet as an energy source in its distillation and drying facility, and the ash that remains after its combustion as organic fertilizer on plantations. By applying this circular approach, the production of essential oils does not generate waste, and economic development does not endanger the environment.

– Our plan for the annual production is to reach 3,000 tons of bio-pellet by 2023. In terms of energy generation potential, this is equivalent to the amount of 700 tons of coal and 200 tons of diesel fuel – Šutić emphasises.

The use of bio-pellet improves the effect of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, thus mitigating the effects of climate change. At the moment, plants on Sanicula’s fields absorb 10 times more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than this company emits in the production of essential oils. Ecologically sustainable production makes their business sustainable too. Namely, longer periods of drought, and more severe floods, which affect Serbia, significantly reduce the yields of Mediterranean herbs.

Sanicula’s project “Innovative approach to the production of pellets from medicinal herbs”, has been awarded as one of the five best innovative and climate-smart solutions within the scope of the project “Climate Smart Urban Development”, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The realization of this solution will contribute to the success of a business based on the principles of sustainable development, through the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the application of the “zero-waste” concept, which strives to eliminate waste from the production process. It is estimated that emission reductions equal to 20,000 tons of CO2 will be achieved during the project lifetime.

By clicking on this video, you can learn more about the process.