By Toyin Akinosho, Publisher, in Lagos
Italian major ENI has initialed agreements with a string of African governments: to collect feedstock of vegetable oil and other agricultural wastes and residue all over the continent. The ostensible purpose is to establish a wide range of feedstock sources that do not compete with food cycles, “to be transformed into bio-fuels and bio-products that might contribute to feed ENI’s bio-refineries”.
In a standard throwback to centuries- long relationship between Europe and Africa, the company will gather these agricultural materials in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya and Rwanda and process the entire stock, in Biorefineries established outside the continent.
The engineering skills, the manufacturing know how, the project management capacity, which come with converting the raw into processed products, will elude Africa.
As part of its “New Energy Solution” as it transits from the fossil fuel landscape, ENI wants to achieve Biorefinery capacity at over 5Million tonnes per Annum (5MMTPA) from 2030. But none of the refining will happen in Africa, where most of the raw material (feedstock) will be obtained from.
Africans will gather the agricultural wastes, on the pretext that ENI is helping the continent “to regenerate abandoned and degraded lands and promoting sustainable practices, to produce crops to be used as feedstock and create value out of material” that would otherwise have been left to rot and aggravate the environmental eye sores and health hazards, but the real value add-higher level skill sets fostered by the engineering of conversion, will be determined elsewhere.
It is like farming cocoa in abundance in Africa and producing chocolate in Europe all over again. But none of the African leaders who signed the deals to provide the feedstock is on record as having said anything about looking forward to developing Biorefineries in their countries.
In October 2022, a first cargo of vegetable oil, produced at ENI’s MakuENI agri-hub in Kenya, was shipped to the ENI’s biorefinery in Gela, Italy. This renewable feedstock will be used in the manufacturing of biofuels, “respecting all applicable standards of sustainability and the circular economy by repurposing abandoned land and by favorably contributing to local job creation and development. Production of such sustainable oil is expected to scale up rapidly to 20,000 tonnes by 2023”, ENI declares in its 2022 annual report. “This project marks the start of ENI’s innovative -5- model of vertically integrating its agri-business with its biorefineries, which will be replicated in a network incorporating other African countries”, the report highlights.
In the same month, ENI completed the phase-out of palm oil as feedstock supply for ENI’s biorefineries, with it fully replaced by sustainable raw materials from Africa. The company also launched a study to assess the economic feasibility of building and operating a biorefinery at the Livorno hub (also in Italy, several thousand kilometres from Africa), with a design capacity of 500 kilotonnes/annum.
In November 2022, ENI signed several agreements with the Government of Rwanda “to promote high-quality seed production suitable for agri-feedstock, for the production of biofuel in ENI’s biorefinery”.
ENI is in the process of searching for biorefinery sites all over the world, anywhere but Africa.
In December 2022, the company started a collaboration with Euglena, a leading Japanese biotechnology firm, and Petronas, Malaysia state-owned oil company, to evaluate the economic feasibility of building and operating a biorefinery complex in the South-Eastern Asian country. An investment decision is expected to be reached by 2023 with possible completion in 2025 and a targeted processing capacity of up to 650 ktonnes/y of bio-feedstock. The project will leverage the Honeywell UOP’s EcofiningTM process technology, which was jointly developed by ENI and Honeywell UOP.
In December 2022, Versalis acquired from DSM a technology to produce enzymes for second-generation ethanol to be employed at the Crescentino plant to integrate the proprietary Proesa® technology to deliver sustainable bioethanol and chemical products from lignocellulosic biomass.
ENI keeps looking all over the world for suitable sites for converting wastes it collects from Africa, into high value product. “As part of the development of the biorefining business, ENI signed definitive agreements with PBF to partner in a 50-50 joint venture, St. Bernard Renewables LLC (SBR), for the biorefinery currently under construction in Louisiana (US). The biorefinery start-up is expected in the first half of 2023, with a target processing capacity of about 1.1 million tonnes/year of raw materials to produce mainly HVO Diesel”.