The production of sustainable fuels is one of the most important challenges that the oil and gas industry is currently facing. The co-processing of waste fats in one of our hydrotreater units is one of MOL Groups most advanced project in this regard. The co-processing approach means that in addition to its fossil feed, a novel, biological feedstock will be processed in an existing refinery unit. This solution leads to significantly decreased capital expenditures and products that are a mix of biological and fossil fuels. This project was supported by intense testing of additional feedstocks that could be utilized in the hydrotreater as co-processing feed, resulting in the identification of several novel opportunities beside the waste fat. The possibility of co-processing biological materials that are not fats or oils, such as biomass fast pyrolysis liquids, is also under investigation with test runs scheduled for 2018.
Getting involved in advanced biofuel production technologies that are radically different from traditional refining is mandatory to reach a more sustainable future. MOL Group joined forces with an international research consortium in 2017 to work on developing and demonstrating the production of next generation biofuels in an EU Horizon 2020 program that will last until 2021. In the project, the liquefaction of agricultural and forestry wastes and the refinery integration of the resulting liquids into high quality fuels is being investigated by both industrial and academic institutions.
Another approach to tackle the challenges posed by making mobility more sustainable is biomass gasification. This technology provides the most robust route to transform biomass, including agricultural waste, into valuable renewable feedstocks for the refinery, e.g. hydrogen. Traditionally, gasification is a complex and capex intensive process that needs development to decrease investment costs. To that end, MOL Group joined a consortium with the aim to develop novel, simplified gasification schemes with reduced capex to integrate with refinery operation.
In addition to the research consortia, an ambitious project is ongoing to evaluate a state of the art second generation bioethanol production plant that could be built in Sisak Refinery. The project is considered a flagship in the European Union, as it would be the first of its kind in the community. The plant would process agricultural wastes and energy crops grown on residual lands, both of which are highly sustainable feedstocks with low indirect land use effects. The CO2 footprint of the produced fuel could be lowered even further, as the integration of the by-product CO2 with neighbouring upstream sites for enhanced oil recovery is being evaluated.
Beyond advanced biofuels, we have also paid special efforts to monitor trends regarding sustainable energy utilisation such as efficient solutions for CO2 utilization and renewable energy production and storage.
The polyethylene and polypropylene grades manufactured by MOL Group are the raw materials for many different plastic products used in all areas of life. In this respect, MOL Group is dedicated to providing value-added, safe and sustainable polymer solutions, which address the needs of direct customers, as well as those of end-users. Several developments were made in 2017 to this end.
A polypropylene production method was implemented, which eliminated the traces of phthalates previously present in MPK produced polypropylenes.
A new collaboration was started which, based on the first trials, could result in polypropylene production methods with significantly decreased volatile organic compound content in our polypropylene. This could make these products safer for automotive and other applications.
A new grade of polypropylene is also in the works, with an expected launch in 2018. This new grade could lead to wall-thickness reductions in many applications due to its unique mechanical and impact properties. This would lead to less material used by weight and to higher sustainability.
Other two polypropylene grades were modified for better crystallization and improved mechanical properties. This helped us achieve cycle time reduction during injection moulding at customers sites, which resulted in lower energy consumption and both higher profitability and sustainability.
In addition to the development activities listed, we are also working to improve the sustainability of our petrochemical operations by the application of the circular economy concept. Our engineers are working on developments that could increase the recyclability of our polymer products. We support awareness raising campaigns about the importance of recycling and ambitious plastic recycling targets, and take part in building a widespread waste collecting and sorting system. Developing or identifying promising technologies for plastic recycling is an exciting challenge for us, in line with the plastic strategy set by the European Union.
Also, the possibility of utilizing renewable alternatives to currently used, crude oil derived petrochemical monomers were assessed. This work supports the launch of future projects that will offer customers long term petrochemical solutions with further reduced environmental impacts. Additionally, the search for technological possibilities for the utilization of carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock continued during 2017. However no promising approach could be identified which would justify further development under current conditions.