I’ve been having too many interviews lately about renewable fuels not to mention several interesting regulatory news within the US ethanol industry during December. We’ll get to ethanol some other time but for now, I want to post this interview I had with Honeywell’s UOP business about their green diesel technology.
This interview is complement to my ICIS Chemical Business article published on December 13. As a belated holiday gift, I am making this article free for viewing (and also to entice readers to subscribe – hey, it’s just $157.50/year + free chemical profile archives – a pretty darn good deal!)
As a background, renewable diesel or green diesel is different from traditional biodiesel where the latter is usually esterified fats and oils while the former is usually produced through hydrotreatment of fats and oils. Only Neste Oil and Dynamic Fuels are currently producing green diesel at scale, according to Lux Research.
In my interview with Jim Rekoske, Vice President and General Manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit at UOP, he explained that the company does not produces its own commercial green diesel but instead provides license for the technology. UOP currently has a small-scale production facility in operation to provide fuel for samples and testing.
“The Ecofining process, our process to produce Honeywell Green Diesel™, has been licensed to a few refiners to date. So far we have announced licenses to Eni in Italy and Galp Energia in Portugal. Both refiners are still developing plans to build a refinery to produce,” said Rekoske.
While biodiesel typically has a co-product crude glycerine, which sometimes is a troublesome oversupplied commodity for biodiesel producers, green diesel on the other hand has byproducts such as green naptha and LPG. In the case of Neste’s production, byproducts include biogasoline, biogas and water. Neste said it is already marketing the biogasoline in small volumes.
Dynamic Fuel’s Geismar, La, plant, on the other hand can also produce n-paraffins and isoparaffins.
“Renewable diesel is produced by (1) converting the fatty acid/glyceride feed to n-paraffins, and (2) hydro-isomerizing the straight-chain n-paraffins to branched iso-paraffins. The specialty paraffinic products are separated from the n-paraffin and iso-paraffin streams. As such, these are generally not byproducts– they are alternative products. For example, 10-30% of the plant capacity may be shifted to production of specialty paraffins.” – Ron Stinebaugh, senior VP, Syntroleum.
Dynamic Fuels by the way is a joint venture between Syntroleum and Tyson Foods (where it gets its waste fats and greases feedstock). Dynamic Fuels said it can produce C14-C17 n-paraffins for use as industrial fluids or as intermediate for detergents (e.g. for secondary alkane sulfonate surfactants), C18 n-paraffin (octadecane) for use as phase change material, isoparaffinic solvents with boiling points in the range of 180 C to 310 C (similar to ISOPAR and SOLTROL products from ExxonMobil Chemical and Chevron Phillips Chemical) where the higher boiling products are well-suited for use as drilling base fluids.
Back to UOP, the company said it can use any type of natural oil or fat and has already produced demo quantities using jatropha, algae oil, camelina, as well as used cooking oils. To date, UOP’s green diesel has been used in five commercial demonstration flights and multiple military flights. Neste has also been demonstrating its green diesel in several European airlines (see ICB story).
According to Rekoske, the advantage of green diesel is that it can be produced at a lower operating cost than biodiesel using the same feedstock oils. Aside from having feedstock flexibility for most green diesel producers/developers, the oxidative stability of green diesel is also equivalent to petroleum diesel meaning distributors do not need any special precautions or handling/dispensing to customers.
“Given the regulatory demands for renewable content in diesel fuels, we believe our green diesel fuel is the lowest cost way in which refiners can comply. Currently die to high feedstock cost, green diesel and biodiesel are not competitive with fossil-based diesel but this will change as more and more second generation renewable feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha, algae become available,” said Rekoske.
UOP sees green diesel replacing existing biodiesel globally due to lower cost, high blendability and used in existing fuel distribution systems and in diesel engines. Rekoske also pointed out that the US Renewable Fuel standard has set a requirement for 36bn gal of renewable fuel. Rekoske said their green diesel meets the specifications under both the biomass-based diesel and the advanced biofuel standards.
UOP’s Ecofining process to produce Honeywell Green Diesel is available today for commercial license. Rekoske said UOP will serve as the licensor providing the process, basic engineering, catalysts, equipment and services.