First Biofuel Plant to be built in Russia

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The Russian Technologies State Corporation “Rosteknologii” is planning to begin building the first biofuel manufacturing plant in Russia in 2011.

For starters, some background information on this subject matter.

Biofuel is the kind of fuel that is derived from various types of plants:

  • Rape (rapeseed oil is considered the best feedstock for producing biofuel);
  • Sunflower;
  • Soy (most widely used feedstock for biofuel production in the USA);
  • Sugarcane (principle source for biofuel produced in Brazil);
  • Corn and other grain crops;
  • Beets;
  • Potatoes;
  • Wood.

Biofuel has two advantages: it is renewable and environmentally friendly compared to other fuels, in particular hydrocarbon fuels.

At the same time, there are a number of factors that hinder mass transition to using biofuels.

  • High cost of production using the present day technologies;
  • Production of biofule takes the same production facilities and raw materials currently used for human food, in other words, the more biofuel, the less produce;
  • It takes substantial rebuilding of vehicle engines to make them compatible with biofuel.

The countries of the European Union and the United States, which largely depend on importing hydrocarbon fuels, are currently producing more biofuel than any other country in the world. According to the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), in 2009 the European Union produced more than 9 million tons of biofuel. Germany leads in this respect by producing 2.5 million tons per year. The production capabilities that are available today allow the EU to produce more than 20 million tons of biofuel. As a rule, European countries use biofuel as a gasoline additive, which is added to gasoline in the amount of 5-10%, which produces a significant vehicle emission relief.

The topic of biofuel gained its popularity in the 2000s when the cost of hydrocarbon-based fuel skyrocketed. Among the former Soviet Union counties, the Ukraine and Belarus started producing biofuel out of their own feedstock.

Later on, when oil prices dropped, an economic crisis unfolded and a produce deficit became a real threat, the idea of universal shift to biofuel significantly lost its popularity. Nevertheless, programs for research and development in the field of biofuel technologies remained in place.  Russia became the target of interest of many western countries with scarce land resources as a potential supplier of crops, mainly rapeseed oil, for biofuel production.

As far as producing biofuel in Russia is concerned, at first glance it appears to have no prospects:

  • First, we have massive hydrocarbon resources;
  • Second, our harsh climate conditions create obstacles for producing bio and agricultural stock.

Nevertheless, there are arguments in favor of biofuel-related research and biofuel production in Russia:

  • Our stocks of hydrocarbon resources are not endless and not available everywhere in the country;
  • Even though we have large amounts of hydrogen feedstock, we have substantial issues with its quality. Therefore, the issues related to refining and fuel additives, necessary for bringing the fuel up to the technological and environmental standards, are quite urgent;
  • Production of biofuel is an innovative industry, which serves as a springboard for a wide range of new technologies;
  • Finally, Russia has a bio resource, which is abundant and does not interfere with food production, its forests.

Perhaps, the Russian Technologies State Corporation “Rostechnologii” took these factors into consideration when designing their production plan, choosing feedstock and consequently choosing location for production.

Plans for building a biofuel production plant had been in the works for a while before the economic crisis hit in 2008. In February, 2009, Sergey Chemesov, Director General of the Corporation, reasserted their plans with regard to building a biofuel plant. Finally, on September 13, 2010, at the meeting with the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, Chemesov announced that the building of the plant was scheduled to start in March or April, 2011, since all preliminary work had been done.

The plant will be built on site of the hydrolytic plant in the city of Tulun in the Irkutsk Region. The principal ingredient for this type of biofuel – biobutanol – will be derived from the refuse products of the wood processing industry: sawdust, twigs and roots. According to Chemesov, adding 10-15% of biobutanol to gasoline will raise gasoline’s octane number and will dramatically reduce CO2 emission.

Russian text: Kirill Degtyarev

Russian Geographical Society