Oil firms at center stage

I’ve been picked as a juror! Fortunately, the lawyers of both sides said it will be a one (or maybe two)-day trial – let’s hope that’s true as you never know the truth from lawyers right? Ha!

And yes, they know that I’m a blog/twitter/facebook junkie so they forbade me to do any of these things regarding the trial ;-) I’ll try to hold off my fingers from my laptop/Iphone.

In the meantime, I’m still putting together the weekly news roundup and saw last week’s two big announcements coming from oil firms Total based in France and BP based in the UK.

My colleague John Baker who has his Chemicals and Innovation blog first noted the announcement from Total’s petrochemical business about participating in a development collaboration on producing bioethylene by dehydration of ethanol with IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN) and its subsidiary Axens. IFPEN is a public research center focusing on energy, transport and the environment.

This development will use Total’s original proprietary catalyst for producing bioethylene, while IFPEN will complete the process development at its Lyon, France site, and Axens will finalize and prepare the technology for commercialization. The goal, they said, is to implement a new generation of catalysts for more cost-effective, energy-reducing production of polymer-grade bioethylene.

The technology is expected to be industrially implemented at the end of this year. The alliance is also developing other olefinic monomers production from bio-alcohols.

Now this is not the first time that Total Petrochemicals has ventured into the bioplastics market since its 50/50 joint venture company Futerro with lactic acid company Galactic has already inaugurated its PLA plastic pilot plant last year in Escanaffles, Belgium.

But it does makes more sense for Total Petrochemicals to look into the bio-ethanol route given that it’s parent company Total has investment in bioethanol producer Coskata. Also during the Infocast Biobased Chemicals summit where Total Oil and Gas was a keynote speaker, the company indicated Total’s 2011 biofuels budget is close to three times its 2009 levels as the company is seeking to capitalise on short-term government policy initiatives.

More on presentations from the Biobased Chemicals Summit in another posts.

Meanwhile, UK oil firm BP is not shy as well in investing in biofuels especially in Brazilian ethanol where the company announced its expanded acquisition of bioethanol and sugar producer Companhia Nacional de Acucar e Alcool (CNAA) for $680m.

BP said this is its biggest biofuel investment to date. Like Shell (with its Raizen JV), BP plans to be a big bioethanol producer worldwide. CFO of BP Alternative Energy Craig Coburn noted during his presentation at the recent Jefferies Clean Technologies conference in New York that biofuels is expected to play an increasing role in the global fuels mix driven by US and Brazil going forward unlike oil where its use in transport sector is expected to slow.

“Brazil will act as the swing producer, the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of biofuels” – Coburn

Aside from CNAA, the company’s biofuels business developments interests comprise of Vivergo Fuels (wheat-to-ethanol based in Hull, UK), Vercipia Biofuels (cellulosic ethanol in the US), Butamax Advanced Biofuels (biobutanol JV with DuPont), Martek BioSciences (now owned by DSM, research in microalgae), and Tropical BioEnergia (sugarcane ethanol in Brazil).

BP said the acquisition of CNAA will not impact its 50% ownership and operation of Tropical’s ethanol business in Goias, which has a production capacity of 435m liters/year of ethanol.

CNAA currently has two sugarcane mills, each has equivalent ethanol production capacity of 480m liters/year at full capacity. Another mill is currently under construction.

[Photo from BP]

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