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Clariant and Pertamina collaborate on advanced biofuel feedstock assessment

Switzerland-headed specialty chemical major Clariant AG and Indonesia's state-owned oil and gas corporation, PT Pertamina has been collaborating since 2018 to evaluate and test the feasibility of Clariant's "sunliquid" technology to process available regional Indonesian feedstocks such as empty fruit bunches (EFBs) and palm fronds into the advanced biofuel, cellulosic ethanol. The final results of the assessments proved that the technology can be successfully used.

Pertamina’s project team visiting Clariant’s pre-commercial sunliquid plant in Straubing, Germany at the end of 2019 (photo courtesy Clariant).

In 2015, the Indonesian government introduced national biofuels targets. The bioethanol mandate in transport for the non-Public Sector Service Obligation (PSO) aims for a 10 percent bioethanol content as a gasoline additive (E10) and will be realized in the next few years.

As a result, ethanol demand is expected to increase dramatically in Indonesia, spurred primarily this nationwide E10 ethanol blending mandate.

Advanced fuel technology solutions, such as Clariant’s proprietary sunliquid process, are vital to match the feedstock potential with the increasing ethanol demand in the country.

Assessing oil palm residues

At the same time, Indonesia has a vast potential of untapped biomass, from empty fruit bunches (EFBs) to palm fronds, that could be converted into cellulosic ethanol. Their present-day utilization is negligible and, until now, both feedstocks are frequently burnt, causing air pollution.

Since 2018, Pertamina and Clariant have been assessing how to bridge this gap. The collaboration first focused on techno-economic performance analysis and the testing of these two feedstocks.

The final results of the assessments proved that the sunliquid technology can successfully convert both feedstocks into cellulosic ethanol while achieving a good conversion yield.

Possibility for commercial plants

Further, a recently conducted conceptual engineering study quantified process balance, facility specification, and process economics in detail. This lays the groundwork for Pertamina’s continued consideration of investing in commercial-scale advanced biofuel production plants.

We are delighted that Pertamina, a renowned energy player in Indonesia, has chosen our sunliquid process for this technology and feedstock assessment, as well as for a process design study for a commercial-scale plant based on regional feedstocks. The excellent results demonstrate once again the flexibility and efficiency of our sunliquid technology platform for different lignocellulosic feedstocks, said Christian Librera, VP and Head of Business Line Biofuels and Derivatives.

The realization of commercial-scale, advanced biofuels projects based on regionally available feedstocks, could help Indonesia become more independent from foreign fossil fuel imports and secure its national energy supply.

As other international oil companies start to navigate the energy transition, Pertamina has committed to play its part by fostering clean energy development to reduce global carbon emissions. Our new and strong aspiration is underpinned by essential judgment about the forthcoming future, that clean energy is the key to energy sustainability. As a result, we are strengthening our business portfolio by producing green fuel, such as biodiesel, green aviation fuel, and bioethanol using palm residues that are abundant in Indonesia. We are embracing a robust growth in clean energy by building two green refineries and optimizing domestic resources to ensure Indonesia’s energy independence, said Andianto Hidayat, VP of Downstream Research and Technology Innovation at Pertamina.

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