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Petrobras Develops Hydrogenation Process to Produce Diesel Fuel with Vegetable Oil

The H-BIO process hydrogenates a vegoil/mineral oil mix to produce high-quality diesel suitable for blending with Biodiesel. Click to enlarge.

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil and gas company, has tested and approved a new approach to producing diesel fuel using vegetable oil as an input in a refining process. Dubbed H-Bio diesel, it will be developed as an option for diesel fuel supplies over the next few years.

The outcome of research carried out by the Petrobras Research and Development Center (Cenpes) over the last 18 months, this refining process obtains diesel fuel through the hydrogenation of a mixture of vegetable oil and mineral oil (a byproduct of petroleum refining).

Recent industrial tests performed at the Gabriel Passos Refinery (Regap) confirmed the process’ technical and commercial viability, and a patent has already been applied for from the National Industrial Property Institute (NIPI).

Petrobras’ Supply Director, Paulo Roberto Costa, mentioned that among the main advantages the innovation leverages is the extraordinary social impact the increased demand for soybeans and other grains will have on the country’s rural areas and, thus, on national agribusiness.

He also highlighted the progressive reduction of diesel imports with the increased offer of H-Bio diesel in the market.

Consolidating this new fuel option will give the country more peace of mind regarding domestic supply, and it is a better quality alternative than the one that is currently used. We can already say we will plant diesel in Brazil.

—Paulo Costa

According to Petrobras, the main advantages of this new process are:

  • It allows the use of vegetable oils from several sources;

  • It does not generate waste;

  • It increases diesel fuel quality, reducing the sulfur percentages;

  • It complements the program for biomass usage in the energy grid, generating environmental benefits and social inclusion;

  • It adds flexibility to the composition mix (load) that will be processed at the Hydrotreatment Unit (HDT) and optimizes the diesel fuel fractions at the refinery;

  • Possible vehicle and lab testing minimization, since the final product is diesel fuel itself, which is already used by the national fleet;

  • Handling and storage do not diverge from current requirements.

The new H-Bio diesel technology’s deployment and consolidation will take place in two stages. During the first stage (2007-2008), production logistics will be developed in two refineries (Gabriel Passos - Regap, in Minas Gerais, and Repar, in Paraná).

In the medium term (2009-2011), the necessary structure will be extended to the remaining refineries where process deployment is viable.

Petrobras plans to use 10% soy oil in the two refineries where the technology will be installed next year and in 2008. With expansion, the tentative vegetable oil ratio could be 5%. That could rise depending on the availability of vegetable oils.

Petrobras released no estimate regarding the total investments that will be needed to make H-Bio diesel production feasible on an industrial scale. The adaptations will take place on two fronts.

The first one, which will require lower investments, will require studies to install the vegetable oil transportation and storage infrastructure. From now on, Petrobras will negotiate supply agreements with the soy bean producers and follow-up on the grain prices at the Chicago Stock Exchange.

The second investment front will involve examining the amount of hydrogen that will be required at the refineries to carry the hydrogenation process out at the Hydrotreatment Units (HDT).

The new process does not compete with the oil refining process for diesel production, or with the biodiesel program since these are complementary initiatives aimed at increasing the diesel fuel offer in the country and at reducing the product's import needs, according to Costa.

Petrobras even put forward the possibility of blending biodiesel (transesterified) with H-BIO diesel in B2 or B5 blends.

Different pathways to bio-based diesel fuel. Click to enlarge.

Hydrogenation. While vegetable oils have good ignition characteristics, other properties, such as their viscosity and quick oxidation, need to be reduced or altered to allow the oils to be used as fuel in modern diesel engines.

There are numerous ways to approach this; the current method of choice is transesterification, which results in “biodiesel.”

But hydrogenation—or more exactly the catalytic hydrogenation and cracking of vegetable oils—is also a pathway to produce a diesel fuel. Because it involves the application of hydrogen to the feedstock mix, it is more suited for an operation such as a petroleum refinery which generates hydrogen as part of its regular processes anyway.

Accordingly, not only has Petrobras been pursuing this, but so has Neste Oy in Finland with its NExBTL process (earlier post) and the UK government issued a tender last year to encourage refineries or other companies to investigate the use of hydrogenation (earlier post).

Nippon Oil and Toyota are also reportedly working on a process that would hydrogenate palm oil to produce a bio-based diesel fuel or additive.

The Saskatchewan (Canada) Research Council under the sponsorship of the Canada Center for Mineral and Energy Technology (CANMET), has also developed a simultaneous catalytic hydrogenation and cracking of vegetable and tree oils to produce a biodiesel-type fuel. The process has been used to produce a bio-based cetane enhance (Super-Cetane) from Tall Oil, a byproduct from the Kraft pulping process.




Confusingly there have been several items on this site that discuss extracting hydogen from biofuel (esp. the US military) not adding it. By taking hydrogen from a fossil source (eg in oil refineries) it undermines the idea that the energy comes from recent sunlight converted to lipids or carbohydrate by plants. Hydrogenation must increase the GHG impact of the fuel even if the EROEI looks better. It seems more logical to get the energy from the plants and save the hydrogen for something else.

Adrian Akau

Petrobras now should be able to increase the amount of diesel needed by Brazil. I don't think it will have as much social impact on rural areas as Costa suggests because most of the land is owned is controlled by large land owners. This land system was set up centuries ago during the time initial immigration to Brazil took place. Any agricultural benefit will accru to the large land owners and not to the people. With over 100 million living in extreme poverty and with little education, they are bound to a form of disguised slavery.

Costa's "extraordinary social impact" means little to these people whose lives remain bound to poverty. Since Petrobas is owned by the government of Brazil any announcements by Costa are government issued.

Adrian Akau

Perhaps I have been too harsh in my comments on Petrobras since they do provide many jobs for the people of Brazil. It may be necessary for Brazil to have a state owned petroleum company because of the social structure of the nation. It would be good for Brazil to conduct more off shore drilling since petroleum resources are there. This would free them from the need to import oil and also provide mineral oil necessary for the production of diesel that is to comprise the majority of the newly process diesel.

In our country, the US, we have privately owned oil companies but these are so heavily endowed by the government, for all practical purposes they seem to be a branch of the government, much as in Brazil. Also, some of our most influencial government leaders have been tied in to the oil companies to such an extent that it is difficult to determine whether or not there has been a carry over of the oil executive company mentality to administrative and political decisions affecting the governing of our country.

An Engineer

Confusingly there have been several items on this site that discuss extracting hydogen from biofuel (esp. the US military) not adding it. By taking hydrogen from a fossil source (eg in oil refineries) it undermines the idea that the energy comes from recent sunlight converted to lipids or carbohydrate by plants. Hydrogenation must increase the GHG impact of the fuel even if the EROEI looks better. It seems more logical to get the energy from the plants and save the hydrogen for something else.
Aussie, the hydrogen does not need to come from a fossil source. You could do gasification of waste products, which yields syngas (mostly H2 and CO). Through the water-gas shift reaction (CO + H2O -> H2 + CO2), you can maximize the hydrogen yield.

In other words, no fossil fuel required. It is becoming a feature of Brazilian technology. We should all follow their lead.

Mike McCulley

I hope this comment is being posted in the correct section of this forum. . . I am interested in the possibility of using mineral oil in diesel engines either as a blend with Diesel or Biodiesel. . . or as I have heard as a fuel itself in diesels. The following is what I found in a forum at "" -- [[Originally posted by Jehu:
Knightbug, Chris is right, you cant make biodiesel from transformer coolant oil, but theres no need to - you can burn it straight in your engine. My brother works for a national power company and they used to have thousands of gallons of the stuff lying around, and some of the staff used to run their cars on it, until the company stopped them.]] I am not sure about using it straight as is suggested above. I do know that there are millions of gallons of mineral oil[White Oil] that need to be disposed in a less expensive and easier manner. Tranformers are only one source, many food processers, especially bakeries, need a less expensive way to dispose of their used mineral oil. A simple solution would be to filter [if needed] and blend it with diesel. Can mineral oil be "processed" in a similiar fashion as SVO and be blended with diesel. Better yet, can it be used as a fuel

making biodiesel

Soya production primarily is not being cultivated to provide food for the world’ s hungry population. Most of it is harvested in order to feed cattle in countries such as the United States, Western Europe and in China. The cattle are then processed to become beef that usually do not land on the table of the hungry of poorer nations. False A lot of these videos are full of green goodness but let this criterion guide your voting and rate below. gr, remcowoudstra


Diesel Fuel Oil is a kind of mineral oil. Mineral oil is just a light oil made by refining petroleum, and so is #2 Diesel. The things you must ask about the 'white oil' are simple: Is it filtered well enough? 10 micron for old Diesel engines, 3 micron for newer common rail designs. Is it 'thin' enough in viscosity? (Thick oils can be thinned with added kerosene. Take a cup. Put a 1mm hole in the bottom. Time how long it takes a cup of #2 to drain. You want your 'funny fuel' to drain at about the same rate.) Is it really just a hydrocarbon oil? Some transformers used things with nasty stuff like chlorine added to the oil... PCBs anyone? You don't want to run them through an engine...

Like the idea of trash biomass as a H2 source... nice touch!

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