Tiziana Monterisi, cofounder of Ricehouse, talks about the collaboration with Eni, Carlo Ratti and the late Italo Rota. And the teachings of Michelangelo Pistoletto
Ricehouse has created a technological solution for the processing of rice waste and transformed them into the building material of the installation “sunRICE – the recipe for happiness”, presented by Eni in the setting of the Exhibition Event Interni Cross Vision.

Designed byCRA - Carlo Ratti Associati and Italo Rota (1953-2024) in collaboration with chef Niko Romito, was a journey dedicated to the key themes of transformative economies, well-being and health, skills to support the decarbonisation process and training. But above all an example of virtuous and sustainable management of food resources as well as a complete circular economy cycle.

How did the collaboration between Ricehouse and Eni and even before that with Joule, its business school, come about?

Tiziana Monterisi: "It all started with a small misunderstanding: when the then manager of Joule's Human Knowledge Program contacted me in 2020, I didn't understand the his proposal since the main requirement for participation was to be between 18 and 40 years of age. We certainly couldn't be included among the young entrepreneurs having exceeded the age... The invitation instead concerned our intervention as "testimonials"!

To tell the story of our company, Joule proposed a web series, entitled "The Rising Star Hotel", which would accompany the participants in the Joule Open Program on the learning path.

Together we transformed the fundamental points of the birth of a startup into episodes in which two boys named Anna and Pietro played me and Alessio (Alessio Colombo, geologist), founders of Ricehouse, as well as companions in life. Each episode was dedicated to the entrepreneurial vision: how the idea was born, how to look for funds, how to set up the company, how to grow.

At the end of this journey we all went to Castel Gandolfo for the first edition of the Human Knowledge Lab program and the students discovered that Ricehouse really existed. Even today, someone stops me to ask me if I'm Anna!"

Read also: Antonio Maglio from Eni's Joule school: “there is no innovation without sustainability”

What do your company and the energy giant have in common and in what terms is a collaboration like the one with Eni strategic for a company like Ricehouse?

Tiziana Monterisi: "Starting from the web series, a relationship has developed with Eni and with Joule, its business school, under different points of view: in addition to conferences and workshops to which we were invited as speakers, we received support through targeted courses and a very stimulating relationship was established especially with Eni Joule. In 2022 we received the Eni Award from President Mattarella , a very important moment and recognition of Ricehouse's work not only with respect to the circular economy but also its vision.

I think this relationship is important because when a "colossus" like Eni changes from an oil company to an integrated energy company, the result is concrete and for a startup like ours it means greater credibility and the possibility of making high-level projects, as well as sharing some values.

If a large Italian company that looks to renewables and the circular economy manages to take even a small step towards sustainability, the result at community level is truly significant.

I believe that thanks to the collaboration between small startups, which do a lot of research, innovation (and even mistakes) and large companies, in a few years Italy could become an excellence.

Today we are no longer a start up, we are now an innovative SME because we are more than 5 years old, but there are many realities that need companies like Eni to put those ideas to the ground that would otherwise need ten or even twenty years to produce results.

I like to define Ricehouse as a relational multi (not a multinational!), because it is precisely those relationships that allow us to grow. And since we know that startups die in a very high percentage, being able to say that we have become an innovative SME and continue to work on Italian territory also thanks to great collaborations is an added value."

Read also: Inside Joule, the business school designed by Eni

What exactly are Ricehouse building materials and how are they created?

Tiziana Monterisi: "They were born twenty years ago from my vision as an architect looking for construction solutions for a healthy house, built with natural materials, with zero impact. When in that period I moved to Biella - I'm originally from Lecco - and I came into contact with the world of rice farming, I noticed that in October everything that remains in the fields, which therefore cannot be eaten, is burned.

Renovating old farmhouses where I found straw, husk and clay, we began to do research to understand if this waste, which is an ancient material, could enter the world of construction and dialogue with the needs of worksite.

Ricehouse was born with the technical, professional and cultural contribution of my partner, who is a geologist, and who studied how to transform these agricultural wastes into industrial products that can be used on construction sites that build zero-impact homes. Starting from straw and husk, today we produce more than 30 products: bricks, insulation, floors, finishes, ventilated facades and we are able to create a building with materials produced in Italy, with the exception of the structure that it is made of wood, steel or concrete. It should be noted that rice is the only cereal grown to feed man, it is produced on all 5 continents and Italy is the leading producer in Europe and therefore we have a renewable raw material available every year in infinite quantities.

Our goal is to be able to make existing buildings more efficient with rice husk straw coverings, to build zero energy new buildings exclusively with materials that at the end of their life are not special waste, have not caused illnesses, have sequestered CO₂ and at the end of their life, will not be a refusal but rather, a new opportunity".

What was Ricehouse's role in the development of the installation at Eni's Botanical Garden?

Tiziana Monterisi: "We created the elements of SunRICE based on a design by Carlo Ratti and Italo Rota. The material used for the installation is new because it is indeed rice husk, that is, the ground skin of the grain, but with a particular binder which is a geopolymer. derived from mineral binders which make it fireproof, structurally more performing than cement.

The installation is the result of continuous research with the engineers who collaborated with the studio of Carlo Ratti of Italo Rota, allowing us to make that material structural. A step forward that has turned an apparently purely artistic installation into a research and innovation project from which a material was born that we hope will soon enter the market."

So this collaboration gave a further boost to the development of your product?

It already existed, but it was handcrafted in the laboratory and the order from Eni allowed us to purchase equipment to make 250 pieces of almost 1 square meter each. So, if we previously printed a few hundred kilos, we printed 8 tons of material, demonstrating that the Salone del Mobile is not about ephemeral aesthetics and appearance."

Sometimes the installations are carried out under very tight deadlines: how did it go?

Tiziana Monterisi: "In fact Carlo Ratti came to us almost out of time because this natural material does not need energy or water to be produced, but 28 days to dry and mature. In the end, we did everything in 10 days (in reality after 7 days the maturation reaches 95%) and the project was revised with the collaboration of everyone, including Eni, to adapt to the new needs.

So yes, we underwent the classic Salone rush, to which we have always been accustomed, but also the opportunity to test ourselves and raise the bar.

In the many years that I have also worked with the Salone, I know that the client does not always accept changes, instead experimenting with an innovative startup with such a challenging project meant accepting last minute changes and compromises, in the name of a common objective: experimenting with a innovative material".

How did the collaboration with Carlo Ratti develop?

Tiziana Monterisi: "Carlo Ratti received the recommendation from Eni and Italo Rota, who we had met when he was on the jury of the second edition of the Repower Special Award for Innovation in the context of Marzotto Award 2019From there he proposed our materials to Carlo Ratti on several occasions and it is truly incredible because we managed to do this project a few days after he passed away. It is therefore a great emotion for me to have realized it.

Let's go back to the house that you define as a "living organism". What do you mean?

Tiziana Monterisi: "For me the home has always been the 'third skin', where the first is the epidermis that protects our organs and the second is the clothes that protect our body with natural fibers or synthetic (which produce two different comforts) Well, when I started working as a designer I set myself the goal of designing a 'third skin' (the house as a living organism, in fact, in balance). with nature), inspired by over 10 years of work with Master Michelangelo Pistoletto and by his artistic vision of 'Terzo Paradiso'.

Always twenty years ahead of the others, he who turns 91 in a few days, has been a great stimulus for me in terms of creativity and vision of the future.

My goal is not to return to the Tuareg hut and tent, but to find a balance through the use of natural materials made available by technologies."

Future goals?

Tiziana Monterisi: "Italy is starting to give us great satisfaction. We have taken the opportunity to work on the development of social and urban regeneration of four towers owned by Aler south of Milan (the RISORSA Towers in the Famagosta area), where thanks to completely prefabricated coats, we made the building class A.

A participatory project with tenants whose roofs have been transformed into 3500 square meters of social gardens and hanging gardens and the facades are made with rice waste.

A direct environmental impact on the tenants, who can use the garden, and on the entire neighborhood, because with the Polytechnic of Milan we will do two years of monitoring to study the biodiversity of this 'living organism'".