2.6B gallons per year of biofuel! SGP BioEnergy, Panama to build world’s largest advanced biofuel production hub

May 22, 2022 |

A team of energy industry companies led by SGP BioEnergy is joining the Government of Panama to develop the world’s largest biofuels production and distribution hub. Once complete in five years, Biorefineria Ciudad Dorada (Golden City Biorefinery), located in Colon and Balboa, Panama, will be the largest advanced biorefinery and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production platform in the world producing 180,000 barrels per day (2.6 billion gallons per year) of biofuel.

In today’s Digest, where the money is coming from, the feedstock being used, the tech, who’s involved in this huge project, the reactions, and more.

Big, Bigger, Biggest!

Developed in partnership with private landowners, Panama Oil Terminals (POTSA) and the government of Panama, this project will repurpose existing facilities currently processing and storing 70% of the country’s bunker fuel oil to the refinement and storage of biofuels derived from purpose grown plant oils, and waste fats and greases. It will immediately reduce the carbon output of the facility by 80%, revolutionizing the economics in the region and supporting more than 1,000 high paying jobs.

A key innovation that makes the facility possible is the proprietary technology of Topsoe that is in use at more than a dozen facilities around the world that have more than 650,000 barrels per day of renewable capacity.

The refinery will be developed in three phases, each over a period of 5 years with the goal of increasing production by 60,000 barrels per day over each phase. SGP BioEnergy has selected Fluor—the engineering, procurement and construction market leader in refining—together with its Mexico-based affiliate ICA Fluor, to perform the front-end engineering study.

What’s the feedstock?

The SGB BioEnergy press release mentions that the biofuel will be derived from “purpose grown plant oils, and waste fats and greases,” so we reached out to SGB BioEnergy to find out where these wastes and plant oils will come from and what exactly those feedstocks are, especially considering 44% of U.S. corn and soybeans traverse the Panama Canal.

First, SGB BioEnergy pointed out that “Panama is not the primary source of SGP’s feedstock supply chain. Feedstock supply will come from multiple sources including some imports from the U.S. and countries in central and South America.”

Second, they noted that “as a central hub for commerce, Panama is the perfect location for this plant with connections on the Pacific and Atlantic sides. We can centralize our supply chain to receive feedstock, refine the raw materials, and ship the biofuels out from the same centralized hub. More specifics on SGP’s feedstock certification and supply chain will follow in a subsequent release.”

Who’s involved?

In an exclusive Digest interview, SGP BioEnergy told The Digest that they partnered with Topsoe and Fluor for this project, as they are “the leaders in their respective industries. SGP BioEnergy’s philosophy on technology has always been to remain technology agnostic. We have studied technologies across the global marketplace which promise to deliver at an industrial scale. Our decisions as to which technologies and vendors to deploy at any time has to do with our assessment of the market readiness of the technology based on a multitude of factors, the most critical of which is the ability of the end product to meet a cost and specification metric that allows SGP to deliver a non-disruptive and low-cost biofuel or product to its customers.”

The Digest covered SG Preston in the past and Randy Delbert Letang, CEO of SG Preston is CEO of SGP BioEnergy. You may recall back in 2015 when SG Preston tapped IHI for a 5-project plan for renewable diesel and jet fuel in the U.S. Midwest and Canada. Or the 2014 Honeywell UOP technology for a project in Ohio. You can also get another blast from the past and check out “Tech-agnostic, integrated, diversified biorefineries: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to SG Preston here.

Where will the fuel go?

SGP BioEnergy told The Digest in an exclusive interview that they are in discussions with multiple potential customers and will release more details on offtake agreements in a separate announcement – so stay tuned! But, we do know that back in September 2021, The Digest reported that JetBlue teamed up with SG Preston (precursor to SGP BioEnergy) with an offtake agreement for SAF, so perhaps that is still in the cards.

Keep in mind, this facility, once completed, will produce 90,000 barrels of SAF, 45,000 barrels per day of road and marine biodiesel, and 45,000 barrels of LPGs, naphtha, and propane.

Obviously airlines will play a big part here considering the anticipated volume of SAF barrels per day. As SGP BioEnergy points out, “Airlines have pledged to use biofuels to sustain one million flights and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 70 percent. This major shift comes from global momentum for decarbonization including regulatory initiatives and major corporate commitments. SGP BioEnergy’s management team has a proven track record of securing contracts with leading airlines who are committed to decarbonizing their operations and providing their customers with lower carbon travel options at a price competitive with conventional jet fuel.”

Show me the money!

To finance the project, SGP BioEnergy partnered with Goldman Sachs to identify investors that shared the company’s vision for a better energy mix that includes renewable biofuel. The country of Panama was an ideal partner to support the financial potential of the project given its free zones, commitment to clean energy innovation and global platform to transport the fuels to over 1,000 ports around the world.

Reactions from the stakeholders

“Transportation makes up 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and the only way to decarbonize many sectors – like aviation – is to integrate fossil fuels with compatible biofuels,” said Randy Delbert Letang, CEO of SGP BioEnergy. “This facility not only brings cleaner fuels online in the short term, but its construction at a central hub of global commerce, serving over 1,000 ports, catalyzes the industry in the long term by immediately delivering a lower cost of biofuels, reducing food waste and revolutionizing farm economics.”

“Our country welcomes this biofuels production and logistics facility that will help Latin America and the world in the energy transition and contribute to climate change innovation. Panama’s unique geographic position, existing logistics platform, and special economic zones make it the perfect place for this facility. We are very excited about the 1,000 jobs this investment will generate for the people of Colon and Panama. In addition, it has the potential to stimulate Panama’s agricultural sector by producing bioenergy stock feeds locally,” said Laurentino Cortizo, President of the Republic of Panama.

Henrik Rasmussen, Managing Director, The Americas, Topsoe, stated: “We are very happy to license our HydroFlex and H2 Bridge technologies for this exciting renewable fuels project in Panama and to support SGP BioEnergy in their ambition to deliver renewable diesel and jet fuels for the local and global markets.”

“Panama’s Energy Transition Agenda is creating transformational opportunities which are positioning us as an innovative country who will deliver Clean Fuels to bypass the fossil fuel era,” said Dr. Jorge Rivera Staff, National Energy Secretary of Panama. “Today, Panama is expanding its role as a Regional Energy Hub while also supporting local agriculture.”

Bottom Line

Bigger is better in terms of expanding biofuels production. How long will this be the world’s largest? Will this encourage other biofuel companies, investors, and others to be bigger and better? Not sure, but just think that within 5 years there could be 2.6 billion gallons per year of biofuel flowing through. And that’s progress for the biofuels industry.

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