Potential renewable raw materials
Based on Neste Oil’s proprietary technology, premium-quality NExBTL renewable diesel can be produced from nearly any mix of vegetable oils and waste fats. NExBTL renewable diesel is being produced from palm oil, stearin and palm oil fatty acid distillate (PFAD) which are by-products of palm oil production, rapeseed oil, as well as waste animal fat produced by the food processing industry. In 2011 Neste Oil expanded the raw material base with jatropha oil, camelina oil and soybean oil.
Widening the raw material base is one of the company’s main future goals. About 80% of the company’s R&D costs totaling approximately 40 million euros annually are directed to researching renewable raw materials. Neste Oil is researching especially a variety of non-food raw materials, as well as raw materials that can reduce the areas of land used for energy production and are capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
Neste Oil’s research focuses on entirely new raw materials, such as algae and microbial oils. The biggest challenge related to these entirely new raw materials is to increase production volumes up to industrial levels, to millions of tons per year.
Neste Oil works closely with the leading research institutes in a variety of fields. In the case of renewable raw materials, the research involves partners from over 20 universities, institutes, and companies worldwide.
Potential future raw materials:
Microalgae of microscopic size can be grown in seawater and on land unsuitable for cultivation. Microalgae produce sugars, lipids, and proteins from CO2, water, and nutrients using photosynthesis. They can make use of the nutrients contained in wastewater, for example. As they also bind CO2, they also offer a number of exciting possibilities in helping us meet tomorrow’s energy needs. Under favorable conditions, microalgae can produce lipids year-round, and offer a dramatically higher production potential than oil plants.
Microalgae are seen as the origin of the world’s crude oil. They grow within a few days, and most species produce intracellular lipids. Tens of thousands of different species exist, and can be found wherever water and light is available. These unicellular organisms can divide as often as several times a day and normally double their biomass in one to three days.
Neste Oil’s research in Finland and around the world has shown that algae are suitable for raw material for NExBTL diesel production. Microalgae can not yet be grown at an industrial scale for biofuel production, but Neste Oil is constantly doing more research and development in order to enable efficient microalgae growing in the future. The company is taking part in two international research projects executed in the Netherlands and Australia. The goal of the projects is to build up experience on the suitability of different types of algae for use in an industrial-scale production under a variety of conditions. Read more about international algae research projects.
In Finland Neste Oil has launched a joint algae research program with the Marine Research Centre at Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). Research with SYKE will focus on testing the lipid production capacity of different types of algae and analyzing how the quality and quantity of these lipids can be optimized by adjusting the conditions under which algae are grown. Launched in August 2011, the program will last two years. Read more about Neste Oil's and SYKE's joint program.
As heterotrophic organisms, microbes are unable to synthesize organic compounds themselves and need to feed on organic material, such as sugars, to multiply. Especially interesting examples in this category for Neste Oil are bacteria, yeasts, and fungi.
These types of microbes are capable of storing large quantities of lipids in their cells, typically over 50% of their mass. They produce lipids and multiply very rapidly, typically achieving maturity in a couple of days to a week.
Oil-producing microbes can be grown in conventional bioreactors of the type used in the brewing and biotechnology industries. Researchers are looking for suitable sustainable nutrients that are both cost-effective and available in sufficiently large volumes to maintain industrial-scale production. Agricultural and industrial byproducts represent a possibility here.
In September 2010 Neste Oil applied for patents covering new technology for producing microbial oil from waste using yeasts and molds. Microbial oil has already been used to produce NExBTL renewable diesel in a laboratory setting. Commercial production with microbial oil is possible in 2015 at the earliest. Recognizing the raw material potential of microbes was a Finnish innovation.