Will Finnish Bio Fuel Plant Cause Deforestation?

Neste Oil, the Finnish oil refinery with also a 40 % share of gasoline stations in Finland, has been under attack by environment activists since the company in late November announced plan to invest 55 million Euro in building the worlds largest bio fuel plant in Singapore.
Instead of praising Neste Oils for moving away from fossil fuels to renewable palm oil based fuels, Greenpeace in Europe claims that the deforestation caused by making way for oil palm plantations is far more damaging for the climate than whatever reduced emission of greenhouse gases the use of palm oil diesel will lead to.
Swedish filling station chain OKQ8 delayed the launch of its Neste-produced Eco20 biodiesel after protests at the group’s headquarters by Greenpeace activists, citing concerns over the sustainability of Neste’s palm oil plans.
Neste biofuel refinery in Singapore will be ready by 2010. The refinery will use palm oil as its main raw material.

Fighting back
“Neste Oil is one of the most advanced developers of new bio-based traffic fuels,” Neste Oil stated when faced by the criticism.
“Being a pioneer is not always easy, but new innovations cannot be developed without this kind of work. Simply criticizing the current state of affairs without offering realistic alternatives will not solve the energy challenge we are all facing. In fact, it could slow down achieving the solutions we need.”
 “Given our heavy use of crude oil and other hydrocarbons and the depletion of these resources, we need to develop cleaner biofuels and be able to produce large volumes of these fuels – to keep people mobile and secure our logistics flows, both in industrialized countries and the developing world.”
 “The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that global energy consumption could increase by 50% by 2030. Around a fifth of this growth will come from traffic and transport. Our goal is to ensure that drivers around the world can fill up with cleaner, better-performance fuels – today and tomorrow.”
 Neste Oil agrees that “unregulated and uncertified palm oil cultivation could carry unacceptable risks including deforestation, and other negative impacts. But the company firmly believes that innovation and technology can help ensure that increased demand for vegetable oil does not require rain forest devastation.
“The current output per hectare can be doubled by improving yield through better farming techniques. Furthermore, Neste Oil is looking at ways in which disused land (idle land) can be used to produce vegetable oil. It is estimated that in Southeast Asia alone there is over 20 million hectares 5 of non-rain forest land suitable for sustainable palm oil production currently not in use.
Neste Oil’s view is that renewable diesel is part of the solution to improving fuel efficiency and reducing the detrimental environmental effects of traffic. Better fuels allow more efficient engines and lower fuel consumption. Better quality fuels, such as NExBTL diesel, also permit the reduction of exhaust gases.

Details of the plant
Neste Oil’s vast bio fuel plant in Singapore will have a capacity of 800,000 t/a, making it the largest facility producing diesel fuel from renewable feedstocks anywhere. The investment forms part of Neste Oil’s strategic goal of becoming the world’s leading renewable diesel producer.
The plant will be based on Neste Oil’s proprietary NExBTL technology. The first NExBTL facility was commissioned in Finland at Neste Oil’s Porvoo refinery in summer 2007, and a second is due to come on stream there in 2009.
NExBTL technology is the first commercial new-generation renewable diesel production process, and can use any vegetable oil or animal fat as its input. The end-product, NExBTL Renewable Diesel, is a premium-quality fuel that outperforms conventional fossil diesel fuel and can be used as such in existing vehicles and be distributed in existing logistics systems.
NExBTL Renewable Diesel is also a good performer in environmental terms. When produced from sustainably sourced raw materials, its total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 40-60% less than those of conventional diesel fuel. In addition, NExBTL has lower tailpipe emissions, contributing to better air quality.
The main raw material planned for the Singapore plant will be palm oil. Neste Oil has committed itself to only using palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as sufficient quantities are available. Palm oil complying with the RSPO certification system, which was approved in November 2007, will probably be available from the early part of 2008 onwards.
Singapore is the world’s third-largest center of oil refining, and occupies a central location in terms of product and feedstock flows and logistics. This also gives Singapore excellent potential to develop into a center for Asian biofuel production. Singapore is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The government of Singapore has played an important role in promoting Neste Oil’s investment, and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) has assisted Neste Oil at every stage of the preparations for the project. The EDB will also support the investment through e.g. R&D support and assistance with recruiting and training personnel.
Construction of the Singapore plant will begin in the first half of 2008, and the facility is due to be completed by the end of 2010. The plant will be built in the Tuas industrial zone in the southwest of the island, around 30 minutes from the centre of Singapore. The plant will be integrated into the area’s existing industrial infrastructure, and will make use of local site utilities and port and storage services. When operational, the plant will employ around 100 people.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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