New method for making diesel fuel uses vegetable oils

A Portuguese oil company plans to announce it is building a 6,500-barrel-a-day plant to make diesel fuel from vegetable oils using a method akin to refining oil.

A Portuguese oil company, Galp Energia, plans to announce Wednesday that it is building a 6,500-barrel-a-day plant to make diesel fuel from vegetable oils using a method akin to refining oil.

The method, developed by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell, and Eni, the Italian energy company, adds hydrogen to oils derived from food crops to create a substitute that the companies describe as superior to ordinary diesel fuel.

The long-term goal is to modify the process to use oil from algae or from jatropha, a hardy shrub from Central America whose oil has long been burned in lamps and used to make soap.

Using algae, jatropha or oilseed crops like canola as a source of diesel would reduce carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere from diesel engines by 50 percent to 70 percent, according to Jennifer Holmgren, director for renewable energy and chemicals at UOP. The company argues that its method produces a fuel superior to the standard biodiesel already being made in places like the American Midwest.

Holmgren said that with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon agency, UOP was pursuing a modification that would produce jet fuel from the same feedstock. With airlines under pressure to reduce their output of global warming gases, the fuel could find a ready market.

At 6,500 barrels a day, the Portuguese plant is tiny by petroleum standards but large by the standards of renewable fuels. To be located in Sines, a port south of Lisbon, it will be the second such unit; Eni is building one in Livorno, Italy.

The Galp unit will help meet a renewable fuel quota set by the Portuguese government. The cost of producing diesel with its technique will be higher than the cost of producing standard diesel, said Holmgren, who would not be more specific. She said the new diesel would be competitive when produced on a larger scale.

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