Eni is a global energy company operating in an age of great transition and new environmental challenges. For this reason, we’re researching new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fuel and also developing sustainable biofuels – both involving major investment. Within this framework, we’re developing technologies to convert conventional fossil-fuel refineries into bio-refineries to produce high-quality, cleaner fuels. The conventional refineries of Venice and Gela have been radically redesigned, incorporating innovative solutions and using environmentally and financially sustainable production methods. Such investments in in-house research have, in part, often led us to patent innovative and efficient solutions, which have contributed to our role as a key player in the process of energy transition focused on decarbonization.
Industrial transformation – towards a low-carbon future
Venice: the first conventional refinery in the world to go “bio”
Porto Marghera, in Venice, is the first conventional refinery in the world to be converted into a bio-refinery. Since 2014, about 360,000 tonnes of vegetable oil have been treated and converted here per year. In 2018, about 10 per cent of the total was used vegetable oil and oil from frying, mostly from catering and major distributors. From 2021, a further upgrade to the plant is set to boost its processing capacity to 600,000 tonnes, with increasing levels of raw materials from food-production waste, such as used oils, animal fats and by-products of palm oil processing.
Porto Marghera, the success of industrial conversion
Gela: Europe’s most innovative bio-refinery
Sicily’s Gela bio-refinery became operational in August 2019 – having had more than 3 million work hours spent on its conversion. The plant can process up to 750,000 tonnes annually of used vegetable oil, frying oil, fats, algae and waste by-products to produce quality biofuel.
According to all technical standards, the new bio-refinery is considered to be the most innovative in Europe. It replaces the large petrochemical plant, on which construction began in 1962 and which has now shut down. To date, the refinery’s conversion has cost €294 million, plus an estimated additional €73 million of investment in further preparatory work and construction of future biomass pre-processing equipment, due to be completed by the third quarter of 2020.
Bio-refineries: production process and business model
In our San Donato laboratories, in partnership with Honeywell-UOP, we have developed innovative Ecofining™ technology. This enables the production of very high-quality sustainable biofuels that exceed the limitations of those currently available – the so-called fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) – reducing particulate emissions and improving engine efficiency. The Ecofining™ process essentially involves two stages: the first is the hydro-deoxygenation of vegetable oil; the second is isomerisation, in which paraffin isomers are converted to give the product the required cold properties and to satisfy diesel-fuel specifications.
The end-product is Eni Diesel +. The biomass used, converted into biofuel, is certified to the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification standard. Eni Diesel + has been adopted by various public transport companies. In Venice, the water taxis have been using it since 2018, while successful trials began on buses in Turin in 2017. Since 2016, the biodiesel component HVO has also been used by the Italian Navy.