One of the main challenges for the energy sector in the transition process to a low-carbon future is to ensure access to energy for all in an efficient and sustainable way. According to International Energy Agency (IEA) projections, in the coming years energy demand will continue to grow, particularly in emerging markets and developing economies due to the convergence of several factors, including population increase, increased urbanisation and infrastructure development. The looming threat of climate change and the commitments made by national governments in the Paris Agreement require a strong push forward in the reconversion of industrial processes in specific sectors, such as transport and agriculture, promoting new technologies capable of generating clean energy and creating new job opportunities.
With this in mind, at the beginning of 2021, we launched a series of joint initiatives in various countries on the African continent to develop the supply chain for high-quality biofuels based on new circular economy models. These biofuels are produced from raw materials developed on marginal, severely degraded (e.g. due to desertification, drought or pollution) or abandoned land that are not in direct competition with food and fodder crops, such as agricultural residue and non-food crops (e.g. castor and Low-ILUC cover crops1).
Strengthening our relationships with our African partners allows us to find substitute and additional sources to supply our biorefining system and meet the needs of the European market, while accelerating our decarbonisation goals.
The aim is to provide the raw material for the Eni bio-refining system in Italy (35% of supply by 2025) and for the conversion of refineries in Africa, by building agri-hubs that will produce vegetable oil from the pressing of seeds such as castor beans or croton, a tree that grows wild in Kenya and produces oil seeds, and lastly, cotton seed, a co-product of the fibre industry that was not previously exploited at present and which is replacing palm oil as a feedstock for bio refineries. In fact, palm oil has no longer been imported by Eni since October 2022. These are sustainable, agri-feedstock raw materials that do not compete with the food chain because they come from crops that are drought-resistant and suitable for growing on degraded soils. For this purpose in Rwanda, for example, Eni has signed an agreement with the National Industrial Research and Development Agency to launch a pilot project to produce seed varieties for oil crops and to use drones for soil analysis and crop monitoring. The project is the first 'open-air laboratory' on the African continent using the most advanced precision farming techniques.
To date, Kenya is the country where the agricultural development project is in an advanced state and is leading the way in achieving the identified targets. It is from the port of Mombasa that the first cargo of vegetable oil for bio-refining produced by Eni in the African country left at the beginning of October 2022, bound for the Gela bio-refinery.