Just a decade or two ago, the idea of producing fuel from waste would have sounded pretty utopian and far-fetched, and little more than a theoretical possibility at best. Something like that seemed simply too good to ever become a reality. A lot has changed since then, however, and today Neste Oil is producing enough NExBTL renewable diesel from waste and residues to power around a million vehicles annually. In fact, the NExBTL units at the company’s Porvoo site in Finland have used solely waste and residues as their feedstock for already some time. How did what once sounded like a utopian dream become reality?
Competitive edge thanks to a broad feedstock base
Rome was not built in a day and neither was the ability to produce fuel from waste and residues. Neste Oil has worked hard to steadily extend its feedstock base for a number of years. In fact, extending the company’s feedstock base is seen as such an important issue that it has been made one of the cornerstones of Neste Oil’s strategy.
As a result of this work, Neste Oil is now able to produce renewable diesel from more than 10 different raw materials, something that no other biofuel producer can do. The company’s current feedstock palette includes waste animal fat, waste fat from fish processing, palm oil, rapeseed oil, jatropha oil, and camelina oil. Technical corn oil has been the latest input added to the mix, this year. The company has also used tall oil pitch to produce traffic fuel in 2013. Both of these are nonfood materials and are by-products of ethanol and tall oil refining respectively.
”Thanks to the NExBTL technology that we have developed, we can use virtually any vegetable oil or waste fat to produce renewable diesel,” says Kaisa Hietala, Neste Oil's Vice President, Renewable Fuels. ”This has given us the opportunity to extend the range of feedstocks we use into waste and residues, and these materials now account for around half of the renewable inputs we use, in fact. Our goal is to further extend the amount of these types of materials we use as well.”
The biofuel market differs from that for fossil fuels in a number of ways, in areas such as the requirements covering different markets and those imposed on the inputs used. All the renewable inputs approved in Europe, for example, are not necessarily approved in the US. The extensive range of feedstocks that Neste Oil can use, however, means that it is very well-placed to meet the demands of these different markets and the customers there.
Feedstock research is continuing
Although Neste Oil has already achieved a lot in its feedstock research, it has no intention of calling a halt to its work in this area. Research is currently under way on using microbial oil and algae oil to produce renewable diesel, for example. Both of these have already been shown to be suitable for the NExBTL process and research is now focusing on how best they can be used on a commercial scale. A dedicated pilot plant has been built at the Porvoo refinery to study the opportunities offered by microbial oil; and the company is involved in a number of international research projects working on algae oil, in Australia and elsewhere.