|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.