Our patented EcofiningTM system allows us to transform raw materials of biological origin into biofuels, notably including biodiesel, known in technical terms as HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). The process itself is very flexible, meaning that it can be used to treat different types of feedstock, from vegetable oils to animal fats and even used cooking oils and algal oils. We have developed the technology in our laboratories and research centres in collaboration with Honeywell-UOP. Implementing the process on an industrial level has enabled us to convert two conventional refineries into bio-refineries, one in Venice - the first of its kind in the world - and one in Gela, which has helped revive the refining sector.
Advanced biofuels are one of the tools that can help limit CO2 emissions in the transport sector, so much so that the European Union promotes their use by means of specific directives such as the RED II directive. Unlike traditional biofuels produced from crops that could otherwise be used for food, advanced biofuels process waste and crops that do not take land away from agriculture, such as algae, straw, crude glycerine, shells, agricultural and forestry clippings and organic waste from separate collections. Our EcofiningTM technology satisfies this requirement in that it can process various types of biomass and not just vegetable oils such as palm or soya. Furthermore, unlike the conventional biodiesel production process, EcofiningTM also produces a biodiesel that contains no oxygenated components and has a high cetane number, meaning improved performance.
We developed EcofiningTM to allow us to obtain a quality biodiesel regardless of the feedstock used. Conventional biodiesel - technically referred to as FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Esters) - production plants use the transesterification process whereby incoming triglycerides are treated with methanol to obtain a product whose characteristics depend heavily on the type of raw material used. Two other major limitations of this system are the difficulty integrating it into existing refineries and the production of crude glycerine, which can only be enhanced following an expensive purification process. The EcofiningTM technology overcomes these obstacles by replacing transesterification with a different chemical process consisting of two subsequent stages - hydrogenation and isomerisation - the former involving treating the initial feedstock with hydrogen to eliminate oxygen and saturate the double bonds, the latter “restructuring” the resulting paraffins to improve their cold properties. The end result is a quality biodiesel.
The EcofiningTM technology has been designed and developed to be easily applied to existing downstream plants. Once the pilot phase had been completed, we introduced the process in Venice and Gela, converting these two long-standing traditional refineries into bio-refineries. We were, in fact, the first in the world to do so with the Venetian plant, and now with Gela, the second of its kind in the world, we are also incorporating EcofiningTM with Waste to Fuel - another of our technologies that allows us to produce biofuel from domestic organic waste. EcofiningTM plants can be combined with our later technologies for producing bio-oil from raw materials that would not otherwise be used in the food sector, such as oil extracted from microalgae, whereby CO2 is biofixed in special photobioreactors (CO2 biofixation) or the microbial oil produced by means of the saccharification and subsequent fermentation of agricultural and forestry waste by oily microorganisms (Biomass to Fuel).
The environmental impact
Biofuels are one of the solutions available to us when it comes to limiting CO2 emissions from transport In order for them to be truly sustainable, however, it is important that they no longer be produced from raw materials that would otherwise be used for food or for which dedicated crops have to be created, taking up valuable agricultural land. The flexibility of the EcofiningTM technology meets this requirement since it can also process waste feedstock to produce “advanced” biofuels that are therefore completely unrelated to food consumption, such as algae, straw, shells, husks, organic waste collected by means of separate collections and forestry waste.
Read more about circular economy
Selected contents on this issue.