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A new edge for European Refineries

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport is one of Europe’s top priorities. Part of the recipe to doing so involves turning waste into fuel.

Eni has just started up a new project that transforms organic urban waste (kitchen waste and leftovers, from food scraps to dirty napkins) into clean energy.

The pilot project, launched at the Gela biorefinery in Sicily by Syndial (Eni’s environmental company), represents the first milestone in a process driven by the company’s own research and its own proprietary waste-to-fuel technology.

Waste is transformed into bio-oil for use as a component in the production of second generation biofuel. Through liquefaction, the energy content of the initial waste biomass is nearly all concentrated in the bio-oil, which in turn can be converted into biofuel.

The Gela pilot plant has a bio-oil production capacity of approximately 70 kg per day and is supplied with 700 kg of organic waste per day.

After a pilot phase, we plan to build waste-to-fuel plants on an industrial scale, eliminating a great amount of urban organic waste through reuse and providing significant environmental benefits to large urban areas in Italy and abroad.

Waste can also be used to produce other commercial energy products like bio-methane, heavy oil, bio-hydrogen and bio-methanol that offer opportunities to reduce GHG emissions while fully applying the principles of the circular economy.

Technology, experience, know-how, skills and, of course, investment in R&D are the ingredients that make the difference in enabling refineries to broaden their production line from traditional processes to converting waste into innovative and more sustainable products.

The Gela project is yet another piece in Eni’s strategy of integrating the principles of circular economy into its activities.

But it also suggests part of the solution to the broader, much more challenging issue of guaranteeing access to affordable energy to a growing (and energy- thirsty) global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2040 from 7 billion today whilst ensuring this happens sustainably, limiting the rise in temperatures within 2°C.

Eni has set an integrated strategy for the energy transition: reducing its direct GHG emissions; refocusing its portfolio on lower carbon-intensive activities; developing new green projects and investing in Research and Development  a fundamental element that underpins the energy transition.

When translated into our approach to mobility, this strategy means developing advanced and more sustainable biofuels, while at the same time promoting a broader use of natural gas (both compressed, as CNG, and liquefied, as LNG) for road and marine transport.

It also includes supporting changes in driving behaviours.

For instance, Eni has launched a successful car sharing initiative called Enjoy.

After the 2008 economic crisis, the refining industry was an ailing business. Yet, to turn our strategy into reality, we invested half a billion euros in a first-of-a-kind operation to transform two of our refineries into biorefineries able to produce high-quality green diesel from all types of biological raw materials (vegetable oils, waste oils, animal fats, by products from the food industry, etc.)

The traditional refineries of Venice and Gela have been re-imagined by identifying innovative solutions and using environmentally and financially sustainable green production methods.

Venice was the first refinery ever to be converted into a bio-refinery; through this conversion Eni placed the circular economy at the core of its activities.

The refinery will be further upgraded in 2021, increasing processing capacity to 560,000 tons of oil. The Gela biorefinery  which will be completed in a few months will reach a processing capacity of around 750,000 tonnes of vegetable oil per year.

The European refineries are a precious heritage with a huge innovation potential.

We must support them, use their competences, technology and skills to contribute to the energy transition, which will need all of Europe’s best capabilities.

We should not waste this great opportunity.