Experimental algae to grow at the refinery

PKN ORLEN is starting another R&D project to explore alternative sources of next-generation biocomponents. The Company plans to open a research station at its Production Plant in Płock, where carbon dioxide and process wastewater will be used to grow algae.

This innovative R&D project is part of PKN ORLEN’s environmental policy and efforts taken to meet the biofuel targets set in the Renewable Energy Directive for 2020. Its main objective is to develop a technology to make biocomponents from oil-producing algae and Baltic Sea diatoms at the refinery. The project is being carried out together with the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn and the University of Szczecin.

On the premises of the Płock Production Plant, a mobile pilot research station will be built to culture algae, using CO2-rich gas from one of the refinery units and process wastewater. Currently, researchers from the two universities are working to select suitable algae species and diatom taxa. Oil obtained from algae and diatoms in this experimental process developed at the refinery will then be examined to assess its potential for the production of esters and synthetic biocomponents. Algal pomace will be analysed in terms of its gasification and biogas fermentation performance, while organic residue from diatoms will be examined to see if it can be used to produce polymers.

We assume the accomplishment of the project’s objectives will lead to commercial-scale application of the technology in the future, allowing us to produce biofuels from algae based on the technical potential of our refinery. We also expect the project’s solutions to be implemented at the ORLEN Group’s industrial units generating carbon dioxide, to reduce CO2 emissions - says Robert Czekaj, Executive Director for Supply Chain Management.

Based on guidelines laid down in the amended RED Directive, which sets biofuel targets for the transport industry, the contribution made by biocomponents derived from algae may be considered twice for the purposes of the Directive targets for 2020. The Directive sets a 10% target for the share of biocomponents and other renewables in transport fuels, capping the share of biocomponents produced from food crops at 7%. While not competing with food biomass, algae have features which make them perfect for energy generation. Compared with other plants currently used in bio-production, they have a high biomass production potential per unit of surface area. To produce biofuels, it is possible to use algae oil but also the remaining pulp after thermal processing and fermentation. Algae need substantial amounts of carbon dioxide to grow, an invaluable feature making the technology a promising way to reduce CO2 emissions.