Finland-based UPM plans crude tall oil renewable diesel plant

By Erin Voegele | February 10, 2012

Finland-based UPM recently announced plans to develop a biorefinery in Lappeenranta, Finland, to convert crude tall oil into renewable drop-in diesel biofuel. Construction on the 100,000 metric ton (30 million gallon) per year plant is scheduled to begin this summer, with startup anticipated in 2014. UPM said it will investment approximately €150 million ($197 million) in the project.

Petri Kukkonen, UPM’s vice president for biofuels, said that UPM has already completed a significant amount of technology development. He also noted that a great deal of technology evaluation has been completed at UPM’s Biorefining Development Center, and that test runs have been made at the locations of technology partners, including Haldor Topsoe.

There are several reasons that tall crude oil makes an attractive feedstock for biofuel production, Kukkonen added. The feedstock is produced in the sulphate pulping process, which means that the forestry company already has access to significant quantities of it on hand. “We will be able to use the crude tall oil from our own pulp mills instead of burning or selling it,” he said. “UPM’s wood sourcing for the pulp mills is based on the principles of sustainable forest management, chain of custody and forest certification. Refining of crude tall oil increases the value added to pulp wood without increasing logging.” UPM currently owns three pulp mills in Finland. Furthermore, Kukkonen noted the yield of UPM’s innovative technology is higher than any existing processes utilizing tall crude oil.

The new facility will utilize a hydrotreatment technology, said UPM in a statement. According to Kukkonen, the first step of the process includes pretreating the tall crude oil to remove metals and water. “The pretreated tall oil is fed into a hydrotreatment process,” he said. “After this, gases and liquids are separated. Gases are recycled back to the process and liquids are distilled to obtain the final products.”

The hydrotreatment plant is not the only biorefinery UPM has in the works. UPM has plans to build another biorefinery either in Rauma, Finland, or in Strasbourg, France. This biorefinery would use energy wood as raw material and feature a different technology than that to be used at the Lappeenranta biorefinery. According to UPM, it will assess its other biorefinery plans after the EU has decided on its investment grants. That decision is expected to be handed down during the second half of 2012. In addition to an investment grant, the investment decision will be significantly impacted by the long-term outlook for wood price and availability in the market.