ORLEN Group launches production of plastics from used cooking oils

ORLEN Unipetrol’s Czech plant in Litvínov has obtained certification enabling petrochemical production using hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVO). Partial replacement of crude oil with the alternative feedstock makes it possible to reduce emissions and respond to regulatory and market expectations. In parallel with the launch of HVO processing in the Czech Republic, the ORLEN Group is developing an innovative technology for hydrogenation of used cooking oils at its refinery in Płock.

Hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVO) are a recycled bio-based material that can replace crude oil as feedstock for the production of biocomponents for fuels and monomers and polymers. HVO can be produced from such raw materials as the widely available used cooking oils from the hospitality industry, until recently treated as waste. Tests carried out at the ORLEN Unipetrol plant in Litvínov confirmed that products obtained using HVO have the same properties as materials made entirely from conventional inputs.

- Sustainability projects in the petrochemical segment are a key element of the ORLEN2030 strategy, bringing the company closer to achieving carbon neutrality. We support the transition towards a circular economy by further investing in the production of biomaterials and the use of recycled feedstock. By 2030, the ORLEN Group will reach a recycling capacity (mainly in plastics) of up to 0.4 million tonnes -  said Tomasz Wiatrak, President of the ORLEN Unipetrol Management Board.

- After initial testing and successfully passing the certification process, we completed further production tests and obtained bio-circular polypropylene, a plastic commonly used in the construction, automotive and packaging industries. However, the method can also be applied to produce polyethylene, ethylene, and benzene. We obtained 95 tonnes of certified plastic from 100 tonnes of feedstock. At present, we are able to process approximately 5,000 tonnes of HVO per year, but our production capacity is soon to double - notes Martin Růžička, Development, Technology and Efficiency Director at the ORLEN Unipetrol Group.

The bio-circular polypropylene produced in the Czech Republic will be used for further testing and research in collaboration with selected customers, who are also required to undergo the certification process to ensure compliance along the entire value chain. Completion of the process will enable commercial production to begin.

In line with the ORLEN2030 strategy, the Group is implementing a number of biofuel, biomaterial and recycling projects aligned with circular economy goals. The technologies relying on hydrogenated vegetable oils will also be implemented at PKN ORLEN’s plant in Płock. An HVO unit will be built at the plant by 2024, with hydrogenation technology for rapeseed oil, used cooking oil (UCO) or their mixtures introduced on an industrial scale. The end product will be used as an additive to diesel oil or JET aviation fuel. The HVO unit’s annual capacity could reach approximately 300,000 tonnes. This environmentally friendly and innovative solution, consistent with the ORLEN2030 strategy, will solidify the ORLEN Group’s position on the biofuel market. The estimated cost of the project is about PLN 600m.

Projects using processed oils are also being implemented at ORLEN Południe’s biorefinery in Trzebinia. In November 2021, ORLEN Południe signed a contract for the construction of a UCO FAME plant which will convert used cooking oils and animal fats into 30,000 tonnes of second generation esters and 7,000 tonnes of technical grade glycerine annually. The project will be completed in the first quarter of 2023, and its value is estimated at approximately PLN 127.5m.

ORLEN Południe’s biorefinery also has units for the production of green propylene glycol from oilseeds and lactic acid from sugar molasses.

ORLEN Unipetrol in Litvínov is testing chemical recycling using pyrolysis, which is thermal decomposition of raw materials at elevated temperatures. The technology will use waste feedstocks, such as plastics, to produce hydrocarbons for petrochemical plants.