Bio Intelligence Briefing

BIOFUELS

OMV to build biofuels from glycerine plant in Austria

OMV plans to build a biofuels refinery pilot at its Schwechat plant that will use waste-based glycerine as feedstock, with construction of the €30m ($35m) project expected to start later in 2021. The Austrian refiner forecast production of about 1.23 million litres per year (l/yr) of propanol from the biodiesel by-product glycerine, which the EU Renewable Energy Directive classifies as an advanced feedstock. The propanol will then be used as a gasoline bio-additive and a replacement for fossil-based equivalents for the chemicals sector. OMV wants to commercialise the pilot plant’s Glycerin2Propanol technology to eventually make 125 million l/yr.

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Glycerine, a commercial term for products containing 95% glycerol, can be obtained from the production of fatty acids, although in Europe it is most commonly a by-product in biodiesel production.

Global biodiesel output is expected to rise sharply to 63 billion litres by 2025, representing a 30% increase on its 2019 level. This is expected to lead to a glut of waste glycerine supply. Producers and refiners are, therefore, investigating new uses for glycerine waste beyond that of purification, a costly process commonly used for its disposal via sales to the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Propanol represents a promising use for waste glycerine given its role as a fuel additive, which can be used to reduce emissions.

OMV will use a proprietary catalyst as a reaction accelerator to convert glycerine to propanol alcohol at its pilot plant based in Schwechat. Research has shown ruthenium catalysts combined with zirconium phosphate can be used to convert glycerine to propanol.

The announcement follows a plan revealed by LG Chem in October to develop a biodegradable material from corn-based glucose and crude glycerine.

BIOMASS

Chevron biomass to syngas plant in California to use CCS

Chevron and the new energy division of oilfield services provider Schlumberger have partnered to develop a carbon capture and storage (CCS) bioenergy facility in California. The plant will convert 200,000 mt of locally sourced biomass into synthetic gas annually, with CCS technology preventing over 99% of CO2 emissions, the companies claim. Microsoft, which is also part of the agreement, will provide AI and cloud technology to maximise the project’s efficiency. The plant is expect to start operations this decade. California has set a goal of a 56% reduction in energy sector emissions by 2030 from a 1990 baseline.

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Among the project partners is Clean Energy Systems (CES), which has developed a means of using forestry and agricultural waste to produce bioenergy while capturing near-pure streams of CO2. The process gasifies biomass to produce syngas, which is then depleted of hydrogen before being passed through a CES power block. This uses oxy-fuel combustion to burn the syngas and produce near-pure CO2 – which is then captured – and renewable electricity. The process is an adapted form of rocket propulsion technology that has been used for over 30 years by NASA.

Chevron will also be able to draw on experience gained from other bioenergy initiatives. In February, the company invested further equity into its renewable natural gas (RNG) joint venture with Brightmark, through which the companies plan to build five new dairy biomethane projects across Arizona and Michigan. In 2016, meanwhile, Chevron partnered with Iowa State to develop a biomass-to-fuel pilot plant.

Chevron also has experience storing CO2 at the Gorgon LNG project in Australia, which is one of the world’s few operational carbon capture projects. As of February, however – more than four years after the project started – Gorgon had failed to reach CO2 injection capacity, owing to difficulties in maintaining reservoir pressure.

BIOGAS

Praj to build compressed biogas project for HPCL in India

Commercial biotech outfit Praj Industries has been selected by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) to construct a compressed biogas facility near Badaun, Uttar Pradesh. The project will convert 35,000 mt of rice straw into 5,250 mt of compressed biogas (CBG) annually, representing a potential elimination of 15,000 mt of CO2 emissions. The plant will use RenGasTM technology for the conversion process and annual output will also include 23,000 mt of solid bio-manure and 350,000 mt of liquid bio-manure, which can be used as fertiliser via irrigation systems.

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Praj’s Rengas technology can convert a range of feedstocks, including rice and wheat straw, corn, bagasse and sugar mill waste into CBG. Rice straw must be pretreated because of its high cellulose content, which Praj carries out using its proprietary BM Solve microbial hydrolysis method, which does not require chemicals, enzymes or steam. The feedstocks undergo a multi-step biomethanation process inside an anaerobic digester to create biogas, which is then purified.

Praj uses a dual plug flow reactor from DVO, which is said to have higher yields (over 400 cubic meters per 1 mt) and efficiency, while promising lower downtime than continuous stirred tank reactors (CSTR), which can also be used to produce biogas. Plug flow reactors are, however, said to be more expensive than CSTRs. Praj has already deployed the technology at a demonstration plant in India.

For HPCL, the move represents a further step into CBG business, having reportedly already been awarded letters of intent for 20 projects. India is pursuing CBG to reduce stubble burning, which contributes to severe air pollution in states including Uttar Pradesh, and dependence on oil imports.

Several companies are planning CBG projects in India, including Host and BoxLNGVeolia and CarbonClean, as well as JBM and MoPNG.

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