Renewable feedstock theme is driven by Ismo Savallampi who tells more about the recent developments of this R&D theme in the SPIRIT programme. The topics to look into are mainly related to the mapping of various renewable feedstock alternatives (e.g. alcohols-to-olefins, gasification, CO2 derivates etc.) but there are many other activities, too.
Ismo explains that the renewable feedstock theme also aims to perform opportunity assessment on identified renewable feedstock routes and develop a concept and portfolio for them. This includes production technologies, pre- and post-treatments, logistics and infrastructure. In addition, the processing of renewable or recycled feedstock will be tested widely and analytical methods needed for industrial utilization of new feedstock will be developed.
Partnerships and collaboration is essential
With a background in process technology engineering within the forest industry, Ismo Savallampi has been working at Borealis for 17 years in different functions regarding production development and operations. In between, he has he has joined twice to new plant commissioning and start-up activities in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Upon his return to Finland, Ismo found his calling with the SPIRIT programme. He wanted to do something different, gain new knowledge, and deeper understanding on value chains and recycling and renewable feedstock business.
According to Ismo, the renewable feedstock theme is strongly focused on partnerships and collaboration within the ecosystem. The SPIRIT partners join forces to look holistically into the plastics transformation to convert the new feedstock into something useful and include it in circular flows. Ismo is delighted to see several research projects being kicked off within the SPIRIT programme recently. Bio-based side streams and technologies related to those are at the focus of the research. It is not only about bio-based side streams alone, but the new streams and process routes are also being assessed to understand their feasibility for the cracker and sustainable plastics production.
Biobased feedstocks by year 2030
As a major objective for this R&D theme is to have biobased cracker feedstocks by year 2030. Out of all alternatives evaluated, the most feasible one should be identified and studied int more detail in the future. The current cracker feedstock is fossil-based and we need to find ways to make it either biobased or recycled. Finding access to new types of feedstocks with sufficient volumes for the cracker is also a topic in this theme and Ismo sees forest industry side streams as a big opportunity. In addition, different waste streams, agricultural side streams as well as biotechnical approach are within the scope of SPIRIT.
One of the potential feedstocks is carbon dioxide and the theme studies ways to use it directly as a raw material for platform chemicals which could be utilized in plastics production. There is demand for such feedstock and a lot of biobased CO2 available. In Finland, there is a special opportunity to use biogenic CO2 as renewable energy and hydrogen economy is being developed and thus supporting CO2-based raw material production.
Interesting projects in this theme
Ismo is especially excited about the Forest CUMP project which boasts a strong consortium joined by big actors from forest industry, waste management, research organisations and technology providers. The project is soon taking concrete steps with a demo plant which is being planned at Stora Enso premises to process the industry-generated carbon streams to cracker feedstocks. There is an estimated access to 24 million tonnes per year to biogenic carbon generated by Finnish pulp industries alone, and the Forest CUMP project partners are now evaluating how to process these masses at their future demo plant. In Finland, there are big opportunities for biobased carbon and renewable energy.
Ismo also wants to highlight the GreenAro project which evaluates sustainable production routes from renewable raw materials to aromatics needed in high volume for the production of products such as glues, resins, solvents and polycarbonates. Green Aro is backed up by a strong consortium throughout the value chain.
Many new projects on the horizon
Ismo is delighted to see several new project ideas being started in the upcoming months of 2024. Something new for Borealis is research on hydrocarbon production via biotechnology, for instance.
To conclude, Ismo challenges the current approach to incinerate residual waste and side streams for example in pulp mills. “I would like to see if it is possible to make better use of the side streams instead. Perhaps it is high time we look at the energy production, waste handling and side stream utilisation with fresh eyes. I would like to encourage big industries to re-think new value streams and keep in mind that Borealis could possibly make use of such side streams.” Ismo envisions many opportunities for biomass instead of burning it. He says: “It would be great to put together a consortium to evaluate the alternative for existing biomass incineration to energy and its impacts on CO2 emissions, energy sector, technology providers, production and new potential value streams.”
Ismo concludes: “We may not be yet out from our own silos but with the SPIRIT programme, Borealis and the partners within the SPIRIT ecosystem are making headway to a more open collaboration, and it is nice to see that things are progressing. Real commercialisation will however take more openness and closer collaboration towards a green transition. We need to challenge ourselves in Borealis and our partners to reach our common goals.”