Test Unveils Pioneering Advancements in Biorefining on a Global ScalePetrobras Agency
The Riograndense Petroleum Refinery (RPR) has accomplished a historic achievement by successfully processing 100% soybean oil in a Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) Unit at the Refinery. This milestone was made possible through innovative technology developed by the Petrobras' Research, Development, and Innovation Center (CENPES), processing 100% renewable feedstocks, adopting process and catalyst innovations, and generating fully renewable petrochemical products. This trial represents a groundbreaking achievement, marking the first of its kind worldwide.
With the successful outcome of the test, RPR, located in Rio Grande (RS), is prepared to initiate the production of petrochemical feedstocks and renewable fuels. These products include bio-LPG, renewable marine fuels, renewable propylene, and bio-aromatic hydrocarbons (BTX – benzene, toluene, and xylene), crucial to produce synthetic rubber, nylon, and PVC. Moreover, it was determined that the BTX concentration levels achieved in the gasoline through a novel catalyst utilization can meet the necessary criteria for formulating high-performance ultra-low sulfur gasoline.
The catalysts used in the test are from the ReNewFCC line and were produced in partnership with Fábrica Carioca de Catalisadores (FCC SA), a joint venture between Petrobras and Ketjen, which produces catalysts and additives for the refining industry.
For Petrobras' President, Jean Paul Prates, the energy transition is an irreversible path for the company: "We are producing typical petroleum products from vegetable oil. It's a combination of innovation and energy transition that benefits Brazil. Petrobras is once again leading significant processes of technical, economic, and social transformation, with global impact."
A test for the present and future of biorefining
The test became possible through a cooperation agreement signed in May 2023 among RPR's shareholder companies, Petrobras, Braskem, and Ultra. The agreement allowed for the utilization of the refinery’s facilities to conduct the test with technologies developed by CENPES.
The industrial test commenced in the last week of October, when RPR received a shipment of two thousand tons of soybean oil. A maintenance turnaround was performed to prepare the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit to receive and process this feedstock in accordance with CENPES specifications and instructions. On November 1st, the processing of the 100% renewable load began, confirming the feasibility of the operation.
A second test is already scheduled for June 2024, involving the co-processing of a mineral load with advanced non-food biomass feedstock known as bio-oil, or biomass pyrolysis oil. This process will produce propylene, gasoline, and diesel, all renewable. Petrobras is investing approximately BRL 45 million to finalize the development of these technologies. This investment in these tests complies with the Research, Development, and Innovation (RD&I) clauses of the Brazilian National Petroleum Agency (ANP).
Having successfully demonstrated the concept on an industrial scale, RPR can now explore various business opportunities for these renewable products produced. Furthermore, Petrobras will have new alternatives to consider, in the future, for its existing refineries, in addition to ongoing projects of co-processing to produce renewable diesel and dedicated units for the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel (HVO).
Biorefining is coming
According to Felipe Jorge, the Superintendent-Director of RPR, Petrobras' technology makes biorefining an effective transition strategy for the future: "The first step has been taken. Petrobras' licensed technology for Riograndense will enable us to produce renewables as early as next year while continuing to serve our current product and fuel market."
Braskem's CEO, Roberto Bischoff, emphasizes that "the energy transition involves the development of new processes and products derived from renewable sources. We are committed to meeting the demands of this market and society." According to Marcelo Araújo, Corporate and Executive Director at Ultrapar, "Riograndense's test results demonstrate the tremendous potential of the bioindustry in the country. We are dedicated to promoting biorefining and advancing renewable fuels."