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Whilst the world is focused on the New Future of Renewables, Petrogenium has taken a stepping stone approach. The future is undoubtedly greener, with biofuels, hydrogen, carbon capture, and alternative energy sources forming the keystone. But between Now and Then lies what we call the ‘Orderly Transition’. This orderly transition IS the energy transition. For refineries built for one reality, they must transition in a coherent, disciplined and informed process if they are to survive this transition and still bring in enough revenue to remain viable for investors and asset owners. We highlight two recent pieces of consultancy work Petrogenium has undertaken, to help bring decades of hard-won experience at an Oil Major to smaller and mid-cap refineries who have not had the advantage of decades of R&D. With a seasoned bench, bringing in over 100 years of combined experience in renewables, Petrogenium can provide a shortcut for customers seeking a rational, stepped approach that meets their resource, geographical, and financial realities.

A large integrated Oil & Gas company approached Petrogenium to perform a comprehensive benchmarking of biofuels pathways. Consultants with 105 years of combined experience performed a biofuels benchmarking study to ascertain the maturity of existing conversion processes, their technology and particularly new processes to make advanced biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass and waste. Currently, there are only a few viable commercial processes to biofuels. First generation ethanol, FAME and HVO and co-processing in HDS units are all commercial and proven, scaleable technologies. Yet the supply of feedstock – such as vegetable oils – is constrained.

Both first generation and advanced biofuels pathways were considered. These included first generation and cellulosic ethanol, FAMEs, HVO, Sustainable Aviation Fuels, gasification of biomass and wastes – including from pyrolysis oil and algae. A techno-economic benchmarking of all these pathways, including feedstock availability, subsidy and credit mechanisms in various regions, manufacturing cost and carbon intensities was performed. The technical maturity of these pathways was evaluated and the probability of these routes becoming commercial in 5 and in 10 years’ time was given.

This biofuels benchmarking on the technical feasibility, technology maturation, and commercial viability enables the refiner to compare with their existing initiatives in Renewables space. Petrogenium highlighted that manufacturers require a stable mandate and credit mechanisms for their considerable investments in world-scale biofuel manufacturing facilities so as to avoid the risk of stranded assets if support policies shift away from biofuels and towards, for example, green electricity, E-fuels, or other renewable sources.

Petrogenium highlighted that refiners should be cautious in extrapolating today’s technology to the next 5 to 20 years. Considerable technical, scalability or economic challenges remain. Our team shared the hard truths, backed by data and experience, to help guide the customer to a pathway that – although not certain – was most likely to succeed given their context. This advice saved them years of experimentation in technologies that likely would not have borne fruit, in an increasingly competitive market.

A Case in Point

Petrogenium was requested to lead a structured, focused discussion to bring the client to a level of understanding on the possibilities and impossibilities in renewable fuels production and supply chain. Using a structured, stepping-stone approach, the Petrogenium team walked in with 45+ years of biofuels experience to advise on what actually works technically as well as what is commercially viable over the next five to ten years from a C-suite perspective.

Using the team’s in-depth and country-specific knowledge of markets, government mandates, and subsidies, they came up with a detailed overview of first-and second-generation feedstocks. The level of maturity (TRL) was factored into the analysis and recommendations, as well as serving to train up an in-house bio-fuels team with industry best practice.

Out of this meeting, the client defined an approach and process for next steps to take as preparation for the client refining renewable liquid fuels workshop, with a focus on liquid fuels. They received impartial, informed feedback from the Petrogenium team – whose only interest was in serving the client and not offering multiple point solutions or technologies.

From top to bottom, the Petrogenium team supported a structured commercial and technical evaluation of new initiatives and their upsides and downsides. These included feedstock, logistics and technologies relevant to diesel-, gasoline- and jet-family operations, and biomass- and power-to-liquids. Using case studies, specific technologies were addressed. These ranged from ethanol blending, lignocellulosics, CO2 to ethanol, IH2, hydroliquefication, bio-cracking, FAME blending, diesel from algae, hydrotreating vegetable oils, municipal solid waste, ethanol, and vegetable oils to jet fuel.

The outcome? The client was able to make informed decisions about where to invest based on their geography, financial outlook, incentives, and time horizon. They potentially saved years of investments in areas that would not have been as viable or profitable. With refineries investing tens to hundreds of millions of euros to convert to biofuels, the cost of making the wrong decision is high.

This article was written by Colin Schaverien, Practice Leader Renewable Resources at Petrogenium.