CMBernardini: the challenge of biofuels
The famous 20 20 20 plan, promoted by the European Union after the Kyoto protocol, provided for a reduction of CO2 emissions by 20%, an increase in the use of energy from renewable sources by 20% and a reduction in energy requirements by 20%. All this by 2020. The benchmark for the values was the year 1990 and, even if emissions and renewables met those objectives, the current global scenarios have shown that it was not enough. For this reason it is necessary to support the new global goals of corporate and energy sustainability, changing the paradigm of energy production and working in a circular economy perspective. This means reducing waste, optimizing the resources available and offering increasingly green-oriented technological solutions also in the production of eco-sustainable fuels.
LACK OF RAW MATERIALS – Although more and more of the world’s leading energy companies are now fully active in the biofuel sector, the market is facing with a series of bottlenecks that are making the production of biodiesel and HVO more complex.
Among these, the first is certainly the lack of raw materials. Although the starting points are mainly by-products of other processes, their quantity is, in fact, insufficient for production needs.
A scenario that might seem incredible from outside, but which is perfectly explainable. In fact, the main problem coming with the first generation of biodiesel was the fact that it was obtained directly from vegetable oils, such as sunflower, rapeseed, soybean, palm or other types of extensive cultivation. An activity that needed enormous quantities of raw material, which quickly gave rise to the complex dualism between the use of resources for food and energy purposes.
The so-called IIG Biodiesel and Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (HVO), on the other hand, using by-products not suitable for human use, have partially solved this problem. In particular, over the years, used frying oils, POME (Palm Oil Mill Effluent), acid oils (obtained from the splitting of the soapstocks generated bythe vegetable oil chemical refineries) and rendering industry by-products have been added to these raw materials. However, producers have to contend daily not only with the availability of raw materials, but often also looking to seasonality, variable product quality and market phases. For example, the reduction in the consumption of red meat coincides with a decrease in the availability of processing by-products which leads to supply difficulties and an increase in cost.
LOGISTICS AND COMPANY DIMENSIONS – Another age-old problem is the method of collecting raw materials since, especially for some types, the supply is either extremely fragmented or subject to the purchase of stocks of thousands of tons. The most obvious example is that of used frying oils. The latter, to be collected in the area from commercial activities require widespread activity. On the other hand, for a supply of considerable quantities, it is necessary to have considerable economic liquidity and adequate structures that allow them to be stored. Both options are two bottlenecks that smaller companies struggle to overcome due to excessive costs.
The size of the company is a key factor since the giants of oleochemistry and energy are investing more and more in the biofuels sector, with a purchasing power and an efficiency in the management of the supply chain obviously difficult to sustain for SMEs that must obviously focus on a different business model in order to maintain competitiveness and profit margins.
TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTION – For both small companies and big companies looking for greater productivity, the most viable solution is therefore to shift the focus from product to technology.
The first goal was to expand the range of by-products that can be used for the production of biodiesel, managing to purify waste substances such as bleaching earth or POME, thanks to adequate pre-treatment systems and optimized plants.
A second, fundamental step was to be able to make the plants flexible, designing them to be able to alternate the use of different types of raw materials. A feature of vital importance for those companies that will be able to search on the market, from time to time, for the type of by-product that is more easily available or more convenient. In this case the challenge is to guarantee a final product that always maintains the same chemical-physical characteristics required by the European specification EN14214. A mandatory prerogative that strongly restricts the field of possible designers and builders to a group of companies worldwide, including CMBernardini International.
A challenge within the challenge for these leading companies is to propose technologies that not only manage to achieve these results, but also do so by consuming as little energy as possible and with a minimum amount of waste at the end of the processes. A result that only an absolute engineering optimization is able to achieve and that allows, at the same time, to maximize the useful life of the plants with a further reduction of the CO2 impact.