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Neste Oil and Raisioagro to research the potential of straw as a renewable diesel feedstock via microbial oil

Neste Oil, developer of the NExBTL process for renewable diesel, and agritrader Raisioagro have launched a research project to investigate the potential of straw as a raw material for producing NExBTL renewable diesel via Neste’s microbial oil technology. (Earlier post.)

Large quantities of waste straw are produced as agricultural residue in Finland and elsewhere, and only a small proportion of this is currently used. The project will study whether a logistically effective and efficient, large-scale straw harvesting chain could be created in Finland. The researchers will also look at the storability of straw for use as an industrial input year-round. The project will be carried out by TTS, a research, development, and training organization.

Neste’s microbial oil technology grows yeast and fungi with sugars released from the biomass waste and residues using thermochemical and enzymatic processes. The microbes, which can produce up to 80% of their cell weight as oil, are grown at high densities in bioreactors similar to those used in the biotech and brewing industries. The cells are then harvested and the oil recovered. for use in the NExBTL process.

Neste Oil began work on microbial oil technology with the Aalto University School of Science and Technology at the end of 2007 has resolved the process technology-related challenges involved. Neste Oil has since tested processing of straw for some years and pilot-scale microbial oil production trials were started in 2011 when Europe’s first microbial oil pilot plant was commissioned at Porvoo.

Microbial oil produced from industrial and agricultural residues, such as straw, is one of our potential future feedstocks for producing NExBTL renewable diesel. We have already tested the use of straw for producing microbial oil at our pilot plant at Porvoo and the results have been promising. This latest research project will give us valuable new information on the true potential straw offers as a feedstock for producing renewable fuel in Finland and on the logistics chain needed to supply straw in the quantity required for an industrial process like ours.

—Lars Peter Lindfors, Neste Oil’s Senior Vice President, Technology

Neste Oil is currently the world’s only biofuel producer capable of producing premium-quality renewable fuel on an industrial scale from more than 10 different feedstocks. The company is committed to further extending its feedstock base in renewables, and to increasing its use of waste and residues in particular.

Neste Oil currently invests around €40 million (US$53 million) in R&D annually, the bulk of which goes on research into renewable feedstocks and renewable refining technology.

Raisioagro is interested in straw research because developing the uses of straw opens up a valuable opportunity for strengthening cereal and livestock farming in Finland. Although there is some potential to use existing farm machinery more effectively in this area, extensive straw usage would call for new investments. Greater sustainable usage and production of renewable energy from straw would improve agriculture's environmental balance and benefit society in the future.

Developments in technology and the growing size of today’s farms, for example, together with farmers’ shift to more specialized production, have already improved the potential for greater use of straw. The goal of the new research project is to investigate the practical questions involved in collecting straw under different conditions, how efficiently it can be done, and various quality-related issues. The amount of interest among farmers and contractors in making greater use of straw will also be examined.


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