Eni: A Flexible Biorefinery

Eni continues to give new life to its existing plant with the second conversion of a traditional refinery into a biorefinery in Gela (Sicily). Launched in August 2019, the plant has a processing capacity of up to 750,000 tons a year and will be able to treat increasing quantities of second and third generation inputs, such as used vegetable oil, animal fat, algae, and byproducts to produce high-quality biofuels.

A pretreatment unit supplies the biorefinery with the raw materials, enabling it to treat advanced and unconventional loads up to 100% of processing capacity. This allows to flexibly change inputs as availability fluctuates and is an integral part of Eni’s feedstock diversification strategy. The effect is twofold: increased returns through lower raw material cost, and reduced competition over specific materials reducing the likelihood of trade-off effects.  

Company in brief

The Eni business group called “Energy Evolution”   is  focused on the evolution of the business of power generation, transformation and marketing of products from fossil to bio, blue and green.

In particular, under  the division Green-Traditional Refinery & Marketing  there are currently 6 refining plants operating in Italy of which two are bio-refineries in Venice (Porto Marghera) and Gela, with a total production of 311,000 tonnes of biofuel in 2019. 

The division is also responsible for the final distribution of products through over 5,000 service stations in Europe, with a market share of 23,7% in Italy and presence also in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France.

Background

About 24% of global CO2 emissions come from the transport sectors. In Europe and the United States, transport accounts for almost 30% of emissions. Eni is playing an active leading role in the long-term strategy for carbon neutrality. We strive to promote a holistic approach to a technology neutral sustainable mobility, aiming for a combination of innovative solutions which guarantee minimal environmental impact and increased efficiency for the consumer.

Biofuel, unlike traditional ones, does not come from fossil fuel, but from vegetable biomass and residues. They can represent a solution in the mid-term especially for those sectors which can be more complex to electrify such as heavy duty vehicles, aviation and marine.

Initiative

In 2012, European refineries were undergoing financial challenges, due to shrinking margins. Eni made the decision to convert its Venice refinery, from petroleum to biofuel. One of the main barrier was that this was the first of such a conversion in the world. The bio-refinery in Venice was followed by the conversion of the Sicilian traditional refinery in Gela, in August 2019.

The technology has been developed in our laboratories and research centers in collaboration with Honeywell-UOP.

Sustainability criteria

Eni takes a responsible and sustainable approach to biomass and is aware that its approach needs to go beyond complying with regulations. For this reason, when selecting suppliers and drafting biomass supply contracts, Eni strives to ensure that the raw materials:

  • Do not originate from plantations obtained by converting areas with high carbon stock levels, such as marshlands and forests;
  • Do not originate from ecosystems with a high level of biodiversity,
  • Are certified following sustainability standards recognized at a European or global level, where specific certification schemes apply.

In addition, Eni promotes the use of raw materials that:

  • Do not lead to a change in land use that causes the degradation of the soil, and, where possible, help to fight soil degradation through good farming practices;
  • Do not compete with food production for water resources;
  • Originate from land that is used in compliance with the internationally recognized rights of local and indigenous populations, based on consultation open to all with prior knowledge of the full facts;
  • Are produced sustainably, with respect for the environment and social conditions, including workers’ rights and health and safety protection.

Business case

Implementing the process on an industrial level has not only allowed two historic Italian plants to remain operational, but it has made of it a milestone in Eni’s path to produce decarbonized products. Thus, it has made possible to develop, considering also a target return of investment in line with sector, the relaunch of the local economy and employment. This process has involved all Eni’s people on a path of knowledge and growth, allowing the company to retain and train extraordinary skills and capabilities to innovate.

Next Steps

The next steps and ambitions to scale-up have been clearly stated in the strategy presentation on 28th February 2020. In particular:

  • bioprocessing capacity of 1 million tonnes by 2023;
  • palm-oil free from 2023, 7 years ahead of the EU ban;
  • increase in bio-refining capacity to 5 MTPA by 2050;
  • increased offer of alternative fuels and development of sustainable mobility.

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