Keeping sustainable fuels flowing

Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental problems facing our society today. This has led to increasing social and environmental pressure to shift the balance towards sustainable energy solutions. One key goal - reaching net-zero emissions - requires decarbonisation in all areas of the economy, and the energy industry will play a critical part in enabling this goal.

Icon Scientific is committed to supporting the energy transition - and a more sustainable future - through developing and manufacturing the analysers that the industry needs in this transition. As new energy technologies and standards emerge, measurement and analysis will become even more essential.

One of the renewable energy sources set to play an important role in the clean energy transition is biofuel. This role is particularly crucial to transportation, as these renewable fuels can provide a low-carbon solution for existing forms of transportation. In the longer term, this includes the use of biofuels for heavy-duty trucks, ships, and aircraft.

Refineries are a major player in biofuel production, currently accounting for most operating capacity and much of the future planned capacity. This makes biofuels not only a key part of the energy transition, but integral to the energy industry’s move towards more sustainable practices.

While the production and use of biofuels have expanded in recent years, there is much further to go if they are to reach their potential in the energy transition. The International Energy Agency suggest that, to meet their Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario, biofuel production needs to grow by 11% each year until 2030. Government policies are beginning to reflect this, with more stringent requirements for decarbonising transportation fuels through increasing renewable content and reducing GHG emissions intensity.

The term ‘biofuel’ incorporates all fuels produced directly from biomass, including biodiesel, renewable diesel, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and more. The fuel produced depends on the feedstock used and the method of production. To meet sustainability goals, we need not only more, but better, biofuels. This means diversifying biofuel feedstocks, optimising productivity and efficiency, and developments in aviation biofuels.

The sustainability credentials of a biofuel depend on the production method and the feedstock used. Today, many biofuels use ‘conventional’ feedstocks, such as sugar cane, corn, and soybeans. These are also known as ‘first generation’ biofuels. The use of edible energy crops can impact other environmental factors, including issues around land use and food production. Due to these impacts, research into second and third-generation biofuels made from non-food feedstocks is now being prioritised - including those produced through bio-FT technologies, cellulosic ethanol, and algal biofuels.

The variability of feedstocks and production methods between different biofuels also means they have more variable properties than conventional diesel fuels. One key hurdle in the more widespread use of biofuels is their cold-flow properties, such as the pour point, cloud point, and cold filter plugging point (CFPP). These are crucial for all diesel fuels, serving as an indicator of cold temperature performance. However, the final cold flow properties for biofuels are far more variable.

Biodiesels, in particular, often have poorer cold flow properties and gel (or freeze) at higher temperatures than conventional diesel fuels. This means poor performance in cold weather, and a need for additives, blending, or other treatments to meet industry standards.

Various methods can be used to improve the cold properties of biofuels, including:

  • Winterisation
  • The use of additives or cold flow improvers
  • The use of different feedstocks
  • Blending with other biofuels or conventional diesel

To ensure economic and environmental efficiency, no matter which of these methods is chosen, the key cold-flow properties should be monitored in the process. This monitoring means the fuel is not just on-spec but has the optimal values for each cold-flow property – while making the fuel as sustainable as possible. Additive use and process conditions can be optimised, improving the sustainability of the fuel but also resulting in significant operational savings.

This is where Icon’s suite of cold-flow property analysers comes in. With the addition of our new CFPP analyser, a full ecosystem of cold-flow property analysers is now available to our customers.

As a key cold-flow property, particularly for biodiesels, measurement of the CFPP is just as important. The analyser needs to be reliable, accurate, and efficient. In refineries with old-generation analysers, this means our customers need to replace outdated technology with the most modern designs available.

Icon’s analysers have always used the best of twenty-first-century technology to increase efficiency, flexibility, and reliability. That is why the newest member of our suite of cold flow analysers - Icon’s Cold Filter Plugging Point (CFPP) analyser - is already making its mark on biofuel and biorefinery projects around the world.

It revolutionises CFPP measurement, replacing old-generation CFPP analysers that are unreliable, difficult to use, and costly to maintain. The Icon CFPP analyser improves reliability and accuracy through our proven cryo-cooling technology, minimises ice build-up with our custom-designed 3D printed insulation, and prevents paraffin build-up using an in-built flushing cycle.

To see how Icon’s CFPP analyser can support you in the energy transition, visit the analyser page or download the analyser brochure. You can also subscribe to our newsletter updates to find out more about how Icon is supporting the shift towards a sustainable future through our analysers: yellow on the outside, and green on the inside.