What’s U(o)P at UOP? The Renewables story, revealed.

July 27, 2015 |

UOP-logoAs hairdressers are to the stars, so is UOP to the refining industry — or, just maybe, the industry’s Intel Inside, and a good source of insight about where the renewable fuels and chemicals industry is going. Let’s see.

Trouble is, we’re so used to hearing about projects that we don’t always hear about the magic minds behind the projects. Especially when it comes to renewables, which aren’t getting the shout they deserve when books like The Frackers are running up and down the best-seller lists. And especially when it comes to the Intel Inside crew, the geniuses that quietly work for other geniuses.

For a decade, it’s been an unquestioned leader in renewable fuels and chemicals development. Technologies like its HEFA jet fuel conversion (the first certified renewable jet fuel), its Ecofining technology that produces both jet fuel and renewable diesel and is in place with Eni and the Valero-Darling joint venture Diamond Green Diesel.  And, there’s RTP technology, developed in partnership with Ensyn — a pyrolysis process that produces a renewable fuel oil (upgradable to transportation fuel) from waste residues.

But UOP’s GM for renewable fuels and chemicals, Veronica May, tells The Digest that the story is about to get a whole lot better, as some of the uncertainty that has been hanging over renewable fuels in the large US market has been resolved with the EPA’s volume proposals through 2016.

The Digest: You’ve had a flurry of activity with prospects, we hear, following the EPA’s announcements on renewable fuel volumes through 2016?

UOP's Veronica May

UOP’s Veronica May

VM: Yes, we have seen quite a bit of activity after the EPA announce. Even though it is a small volume increase, and it’s difficult to precisely forecast how long it takes people to react. But it has been a month now, and I think that for a couple of different reasons the EPA action has had a positive impact. Firstly,  for a lot of people there was doubt a month ago, whether it would come at all.

But it came out on the 29th and there were increases. If we peg those in terms of plants, what we are looking at in the D4s is something like one Ecofining plant at 100 mgy per year, and in the

D7s that ties in with 5 RTP plants at 20 mgy each.

If you read a lot of different reactions,  there’s a lot about the EPA killing this and killing that. We just happy that the number went up. The good news is now that the announcements are out, people are taking the next steps.

The Digest: Where do you see a buzz of activity elsewhere? How;’s the massive Petrixo project coming along in the Middle East, for example?

VM: It has been almost a year to the day that the Petrixo release confirmed they were going forward. We are still actively putting all the different pieces together to start construction. Meanwhile, we are seeing quite a lot of activity around green jet, and our group in Europe, and that’s a bit of a change.

The Digest: What are the key barriers now?

VM: With Ecofining, it’s the feedstock logistics, everything is on the feedstock side. And now that we have a volume numbers for [the future], we can start focusing in on feedstocks and logistics.

The Digest: For technologies like Ecofining, which are based in processing oils, where are the opportunities in feedstock.

VM: Jatropha and those kind of feedstocks are exactly where the focus needs to be right now, they really can make the green product viable without mandates, if the productivity is there. And with the yields that we hear about, we are not taking about the entire state of Texas to make a project viable!

The Digest: What about waste oils, as have been the focus at Diamond Green Diesel?

VM: Waste oils are a viable feedstock. There are different greases, you don’t have to plant and wait, and it doesn’t depend on the weather. A basis in waste feedstocks starts the whole value chain, and

there are couple of different companies that are having success with fats and greases. If the primary feedstock is waste, then it is possible to do more things down the line as financial pressures subside.

The Digest: What’s the latest with RTP? Will we hear more about projects with that technology soon?

VM: With Ecofining and RTP, we’re getting back on the radar, we’re seeing anniversaries of existing plants, and others in construction. Ensyn had its first project with pyoil, and now they have two other contracts; these are fuel oil replacement  projects within the industrial or hospital sector, so its a whole different atmosphere and more disjointed than refiners in North America. You don’t see 135 million gallon per year plants, you see individual sites and facilities. But also there are potential projects with significant biomass feedstock sources, like pulp and paper mills. You don’t read about that on a daily basis, it’s not front page news.

One thing we are working on is a co-processing trial in the US with pyoil, which we see as an opportunity for RTP to link into the refining industry. That is, using existing equipment and also a source of renewable fuels. It would allow a refiner to create RIN qualifying fuels, and now there a relatively good core of refiners looking at options within the field of renewables.

The Digest: A running theme here has been the impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard – whether it is RIN opportunities or increased volumes. How about other regulatory schemes such as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard — how do they compare, for you?

VM: A lot of people think the LCFS might be the type of legislation we see in the future. The California standard is much wider and broader, looking at total emissions as we go forward. In the end, there might be many different solutions, but in each case, a new technology standard is driven by a mandate, whether it is RFS2 or taxes or RINs. With LCFS, which is not only in California but now expanding towards Oregon and up the west Coast, possibly, it gives the owner more options, and we see a lot more activity looking at all carbon sources.

The Digest: So, is the focus for now in technology going to be supporting rollout of RTP and Ecofining, or is there more on the way from UOP?

VW: We are certainly going to support RTP and Ecofining! However we see our renewable chemical and fuel group growing substantially, and there will be new technologies as well as maturing ones.

When people talk about renewable fuels, they are also talking solar and wind, and we want to be very active in the field, and use our 100 years of experience to help industry make the step changes they want and need. We see that role expanding!

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