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Feedstock supply chains & Clariant’s experience in Romania

Bioenergy, and in particular advanced biofuels, will help mitigating climate change, will significantly contribute to reach national and global emission goals, and play a key role in the decarbonization of the transport sector.

Multiple studies agree that the sustainable primary bio-feedstock potential will be more than 100EJ/y by 2050. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) assumes in their bioenergy roadmap a range of 131 to 240 EJ of sustainable biomass resource could be available by 2060, of which 35-40% will come from agricultural residues.

The success of making use of that sustainable biomass resource and a rapid uptake of bioenergy technologies relies on many factors.

  1. One of it is the cost of feedstock, which is directly dependent on the development, establishment and execution of a reliable, stable, high-quality feedstock supply chain. The efficient operation of all aspects along the feedstock supply chain, including harvesting, collecting, storing, transporting and handling is important to ensure a stable supply while still being cost-efficient and meeting biorefinery quality specifications of the delivered feedstock.
  2. When it comes to the set-up of a bioenergy feedstock supply chain there are many flexible factors that need to be taken into consideration. Biomass harvesting and collection, for example, greatly depends on the type of feedstock, local conditions and final usage. The aim of each feedstock supply strategy has to be to integrate time-sensitive feedstock collection, storage and delivery options into an efficient, year-round supply system that sustainably delivers consistently high-quality, infrastructure-compatible feedstocks to biorefineries.

In the past, there have been already cases worldwide where such a stable feedstock supply chain at commercial level has been established. Pécs, a Hungarian city with 160.000 inhabitants, is a prime example. Veolia, a leading energy supplier in Europe, operates two electricity and heat production plants in the city that are fueled by straw and wood waste. Local farmers deliver 240,000 tons of straw per year as well as 450,000 tons of wood biomass to ensure the city’s energy independence.

About 700 kilometers southeast of Pécs, Clariant is currently setting up another leading example of a well-functioning feedstock supply chain. In 2018 the company broke ground on its greenfield first-of-its-kind full-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Podari, in southwestern Romania, using its sunliquid® technology. The new sunliquid® plant is designed to process approx. 250,000 tons of cereal straw per year for the conversion into 50,000 tons of cellulosic ethanol.

The feedstock will be supplied through a purchasing system from a strong network of local farmers in Dolj, Olt, Mehedinti and Teleorman counties. The objective is to build long-term relationships with  farmers to ensure a stable feedstock supply for the plant. Over the past two years, a dedicated feedstock crew of four team members established long-term contracts with 200+ farmers to acquire agricultural residues. Until now, these residues were in many cases burned on the fields. Another objective is to ensure a stable and reliable straw supply chain for the operational phase of the plant. Many measures have been taken to work with local farmers. For example, farmer workshops both in Romania and Germany have been organized to tap into the opportunity for farmers to transform their leftovers from the field into an additional source of income as well .

Clariant’s supply chain is made efficient by the fact that it has a short cycle, it is based on local feedstock providers (farmers) that have the potential to cover the necessary quantities providing Clariant with real time information on the progress of the crops and allowing to take JIT decisions regarding the whole supply chain. This efficiency was created by providing farmers (and equipment providers) the opportunity to participate in multiple ways in the supply chain, thus creating interest in the optimization of all processes and operations that take place in the supply chain and to foster the local direct involvement/deployment of the harvesting value chain itself (eg. farmers buying harvesting equipment, providing storage capabilities etc and delivering the full service).

Clariant started its harvesting campaign back in 2018 with initial 3.000 tons of straw, in 2019 circa 20.000 tons of wheat straw have been collected in order to test in Clariant’s sunliquid® precommercial plant in Straubing Germany and adjust supply chain performance. (See the Cl;ariant harvest video here).

The focus was on an efficient straw collection, transportation and storage operations. The ramp-up of the supply chain will continue to finally reach 250.000 tons for full scale plant capacity. Since 2019 straw harvest operations are coordinated, managed and monitored through a digital application that enables Clariant’s feedstock supply team to closely monitor all activities and corresponding machinery like baling, transport, storage. Also, network systems designed for straw storing & delivery JIT are implemented. In addition to that, the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) EU has been obtained as a first gathering point being mandatory in order to sell biofuels in EU

Besides the opportunity for farmers to industrially market their straw for the first time, Clariant’s investment in the site, one of the largest in Southwest Romania so far, will bring numerous socioeconomic benefits to the region. Construction of the plant has commenced and over 800 construction workers will be employed by locally based companies during that phase. After completion, the plant is expected to provide around 300 jobs in supporting industries serving the site, and in the transportation and storage of the feedstock. The plant itself will employ a workforce of around 100.

Editor’s note: Clariant is working with their partners at ExxonMobil and Genomatica to turn agricultural waste into low-emission biofuel. There’s a video worth seeing about this effort, from Exxon, and it is here.

By Paolo Corvo, Head of Sales & Marketing Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives at Clariant

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