The YPF oil company started up an “ETBE” production plant at the Luján de Cuyo refinery, a component that is incorporated into fuels to improve quality and reduce environmental impact, since it is based on bioethanol. This change also marks a new course and the growth of a business related to energy, but not to oil: biofuels. In fact, the enormous plant in Luján de Cuyo already receives trucks with bioetol from the center and northwest of the country, which are complemented by the pipelines that bring the oil.
The ETBE plant began to take shape in 2019 and went into production in August of this year. According to official information, the reconversion and construction of a new oxygenation plant required an investment of 21 million dollars. “It should be noted that all the calculation and mechanical design of the equipment was developed at the Luján de Cuyo Refinery and almost all of the necessary equipment as well as the labor was provided by local companies,” they reported.
The ETBE (Ethyl tert-butyl ether) is an additive that is added to oxygenate and improve fuels and that replaces the MTBE, the compound that was used since the early 90s for the same purpose and later stopped being used due to the collateral damage it produced (water contamination). The new product is the most widely used in Europe because it has less impact. “To complete the conversion plan from the MTBE unit to ETBE, a new oxygenation unit ORU (Oxigenate Removal Unit) was installed, which made this project one of the most relevant currently in the Complex”, reported from YPF.
By law, gasoline must have a proportion of biofuels. This regulation changed the business and even the pump price, since it is added as part of the variables to that raw material that is produced in some areas of the country. The law has expired and there is cross pressure to modify or maintain it. Currently, the production of bioethanol in Argentina is made based on molasses, a by-product of sugar manufacturing, direct sugar cane juice (Sacharum officinarum L) and cereals, mainly corn (Zea mays) , which was later incorporated into the cane. The mandatory cut is 12%; 6% bioethanol produced with corn and another 6% with sugar cane. This business is mainly concentrated in 10 companies.
In July, President Alberto Fernández extended the law for two months and postponed the debate in Congress. There is tension for the required percentage. While Máximo Kirchner is pushing for a decrease in the required percentage, which would favor the oil provinces, from the Center and North of the country they ask to maintain the proportion as it has been until now.