Neste Oil completes first phase of European pilot plant for microbial oil

Neste Oil has completed the first phase of its project to build a pilot plant for producing microbial oil, the Finnish firm said on Wednesday.

Construction of the plant is on-schedule and on-budget, the company reports.

The first phase enables the growth of oil-producing micro-organisms, and the following phases will concentrate on raw material pretreatment and oil recovery.

The goal is to develop the technology so that it is capable of yielding commercial volumes of microbial oil for use as a feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel. Commercial-scale production is expected by 2015 at the earliest.

“Work on the pilot plant has progressed according to plan and the technology has performed excellently,” said Petri Lehmus, Neste Oil vice president for research and development. “The plant is already generating microbial oil containing biomass, which is a great achievement.”

The pilot plant is expected to be fully complete in the second half of 2012 and represents an investment of €8 million by Neste Oil.

The technology is designed to produce feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel by using yeast and fungi to convert sugars from waste and residues into oil highly efficiently, the company says.

It utilizes bioreactors similar to those used in the biotech and brewing industries. A wide range of different waste and residue materials can be used, such as straw and sidestreams from the pulp and paper industry, thereby making feedstock optimization possible.

“Extending our feedstock base is a central component of our cleaner traffic strategy,” said Lehmus. “Our aim is to focus on making use of waste and residues with the smallest possible carbon footprint for producing our renewable fuels.”

Microbial oil technology represents an attractive option, both because of its efficiency and its sustainability, according to the company.

Neste Oil says it has carried out pioneering research in the field and has applied for several patents covering the microbial oil technology. A number of partners have been involved in this work, including Aalto University.

“Our microbial oil pilot plant is the first of its kind in Europe, and Finnish research in the area is highly advanced worldwide,” said Lehmus.

The pilot plant currently employs 10 people and a number of other people indirectly, according to the company.

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