Neste banks on waste-based microbial oil

By | September 20, 2010

Posted Sept. 29, 2010

Neste Oil recently applied for patents covering technology developed to produce microbial oil from waste and residues with help from various yeasts and molds. The oil could then be used as feedstock for the company's NExBTL renewable diesel process. Research work began with the Aalto University School of Science and Technology in late 2007, and since then the process technology challenges have been resolved. Microbial oil produced this way has already been refined into NExBTL renewable diesel.

"Our research is currently concentrating on ways of extending the range of raw materials we can use for producing NExBTL, and we're particularly focusing on nonfood materials capable of making a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Neste Oil's Biotechnology Manager, Markku Patajoki. "Our work has shown that waste-based microbial oil represents an excellent opportunity, and we believe it's a very promising future raw material."

Following the success of the lab work, the emphasis will now shift to evaluating microbial oil's potential for pilot-scale production. Commercialization is possible by 2015 at the earliest.

Research has shown that agricultural residues, together with waste and side streams from industry, represent an excellent source of energy and carbon for yeasts and molds, which feed off organic compounds.

"Sugars from cereals and sugarcane can also be used, but agricultural and industrial waste and residues are even more interesting materials from a sustainable point of view," said Neste Oil Researcher Perttu Koskinen.

"We're currently in the process of evaluating a number of alternative raw materials for processing using yeasts and molds. Agricultural residues such as straw or an industrial byproduct such as glycerol from traditional biodiesel processes, for example, are suitable for producing microbial oil using yeasts or molds."

The Aalto University School of Science and Technology concentrated on the initial phase of identifying which yeast and mold strains are the most suitable for industrial use and developing the systems technology needed to ensure that microbes generate sufficient levels of oil. Neste Oil, for its part, focused on leveraging its expertise to extract the microbial oil produced from the biomass.

"Collaboration with Neste Oil on the project has gone very well," said Professor Simo Laakso of the Department of Biotechnology and Chemistry at Aalto University. "We've been able to draw on our know-how in the scientific fundamentals to identify new sources of raw materials for producing renewable fuels. This kind of applied scientific research is essential for generating new innovations that can go on to be commercialized."

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