Technological watch

ORLEN Unipetrol continues its sustainability strategy by producing certified renewable polypropylene from waste vegetable oil

Refining and petrochemical group ORLEN Unipetrol continues meeting its Strategy 2030 goals. As part of this strategy, it undertook to invest CZK 35 billion in developing sustainable projects and digitalization. Under this strategy, the Group wants the recycled and renewable sources to contribute over 15 per cent of the manufacture of its petrochemical products by 2030. Waste vegetable oil recycling is one of the projects addressed by the researchers in the Litvínov refinery. After initial tests, they have now launched operating tests of adding a bio material – hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) – to the production process at the steam cracker.

“The petrochemical segment is a key area of our sustainable development, based on low-emission and zero-emission energy sources and waste materials previously unused. This project is a great example of our efforts to meet these goals. It is an exemplary cooperation of a number of experts within our group in the field of development, production and trade, including the involvement of our customers, who provide us with valuable feedback,” said Tomasz Wiatrak, CEO of ORLEN Unipetrol.

The first tests of the use of HVO in the production process were carried out at the steam cracker in Litvínov in 2020 and 2021. “And they were successful. We verified that HVO could be processed. That is why we could continue the tests in 2021 and start the process certification for this production procedure to produce this renewable material precisely under the legislative standards. We received the internationally recognized certification in November last year. We carried out another production, now fully certified test, at the end of the year. Thus, we produced the first dose of the certified plastic – polypropylene. This so-called bio-circular material has the same quality as the material made of a fossil raw material. We can use this method to produce polypropylene, polyethylene, ethylene, and benzene,” explains Martin R?ži?ka, Director of development, technologies and efficiency of the ORLEN Unipetrol Group.

The produced polypropylene will be used in subsequent research and tests with selected customers who will provide their valuable observations. The customers must also pass the certification to ensure that the entire process is compliant with the defined legislative standards. Thus, the final product produced from bio-circular ORLEN Unipetrol petrochemicals will be a certified bio-circular product.

“We are very excited about this new mass balanced opportunity, especially given the critical importance of the high need for viable sustainable solutions for nonwoven fabrics. We have a longstanding partnership with Unipetrol, and we are pleased that this is another product development that we can commercialize,” said Tonny de Beer, Chief Product, Technology & Sustainability Officer, PFNonwovens Group.

“We produced 95 tonnes of certified material out of 100 tonnes of the input feedstock. Now, we are ready to process up to 5,000 tonnes of hydrogenated vegetable oil per year. We will soon be able to process up to 10,000 tonnes yearly. Eventually, we expect to process up to 100,000 tonnes of the alternative feedstock per year. We want to start processing another input material in the future. The plastic waste recycled material is now closest to being certified,” concludes Martin R?ži?ka.

ORLEN Unipetrol is active in research in the field of circular economics and recycling. Besides HVO processing, the Group is also testing the chemical recycling using the principles of pyrolysis or thermal degradation under high temperatures. This is a highly effective technology for the repeated use of waste raw materials. The technology can exploit the initial waste and convert it to hydrocarbons, reintegrating them into petrochemical production. This method enables the more effective use of the existing waste and significantly reduces the carbon footprint. In 2021, ORLEN Unipetrol researchers commissioned a test pyrolysis plastic waste recycling unit.

ORLEN Unipetrol wants the recycled and renewable sources to contribute to up to 20 per cent of the manufacture of its petrochemical products by 2030. The key petrochemical products of the Group are polyethylene under the Liten brand that is referring to the city of Litvínov and polypropylene under the Mosten? brand referring to the cities of Most, i.e. the cities between which the production area of ORLEN Unipetrol is located.

About ORLEN UnipetrolThe ORLEN Unipetrol Group is the largest refining and petrochemical company in the Czech Republic. It focuses on crude oil processing and on the production, distribution and sale of vehicle fuels and petrochemical products – particularly plastics and fertilisers. In all these areas, it belongs among the critical players on the Czech and Central European market. The ORLEN Unipetrol Group encompasses refineries and production plants in Litvínov and Kralupy nad Vltavou, Paramo in Pardubice, Spolana Neratovice, and two research centres in Litvínov and Brno. ORLEN Unipetrol also includes a network of Benzina ORLEN filling stations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. With 424 filling stations, Benzina ORLEN is the largest chain in the Czech Republic. Since its entry in 2019 to Slovakia, Benzina ORLEN has been one of the fastest-growing chains and currently has 22 stations in its network. ORLEN Unipetrol employs nearly 5,000 people. In 2005, ORLEN Unipetrol became a member of the ORLEN Group, the largest crude-oil processor in Central Europe. In addition to its business development, ORLEN Unipetrol is proud to be a socially responsible corporation. Therefore, it pays an equal amount of attention to initiatives, focusing on the cultivation and support of sustainable development, education, local communities, and the environment.

Publication date: 08/04/2022

Author: Marion Kupfer

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This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31