Biorefinery – fuel, gas and starch from grain

Pischelsdorf in Lower Austria does not seem to be the hub of the energy world, but interesting conditions prevail there: Directly on the Danube, the former Dürnrohr power plant, now a waste incineration plant, and Zwentendorf, where nuclear power was never generated, but now solar energy, with the Donau Chemie and of the Agrana biorefinery. High-voltage lines cross the landscape, and the Czech border is not far.

“We have the most modern plant of its kind in the world here,” proudly explained Norbert Harringer, Agrana Technology Director (CTO), in the Pischelsdorf biorefinery to journalists on Wednesday.

Energy node with added value

It is no coincidence that the plant was built in the vicinity of the “energy node” Dürnrohr, where EVN generates heat with process steam, district heating and electricity with its waste incineration plant, because: 90 percent of the energy for the biorefinery comes directly from there, only gas is required for ten percent.

Harringer emphasizes that 100 percent of the raw material, wheat or corn, is used in Pischelsdorf. Sustainable recycling characterizes the processes of the plant, which have been continuously optimized in recent years. There is a lot of company know-how in it.

On the one hand, bran, animal feed, starch for food and paper production, and protein are obtained from wheat and corn. On the other hand, the two wheat starch plants are also connected to bioethanol production. This then uses the unused components for the production of organic fuel and protein feed. These processes also produce high-purity biogenic carbon dioxide, which is immediately delivered to the neighboring plant of the liquid gas group Air Liquide, 120,000 tons per year.

A lack of CO2 – as recently complained about in Germany, where this is obtained from energy-intensive fertilizer production – does not prevail in Austria, the Agrana experts explain. In addition, the Pischelsdorf carbon dioxide does not come from fossil sources.

Biofuel in focus

When asked by the “Wiener Zeitung” whether agricultural land that is also used for food production would be used for biofuel, a resounding “No!” as answer.

In fact, only feed-grade wheat and corn are used. These raw materials are then partially refined through various processes in such a way that the end products can be used for food. The bio-ethanol that is added to the petrol is also just one of several end products.

A side note: in Austria, only five percent bioethanol is added to petrol (E5), in other EU countries ten percent (E10). The Agrana managers cannot answer why this is so. According to Harringer, it cannot be due to possible price increases at the pump. At best, more bioethanol in fuel would have an effect on “the second decimal place”.

212 percent of Austria’s bio-ethanol requirement is currently produced in Pischelsdorf. 60 percent of it is exported abroad. That is a loss of 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas equivalents – at a price of 70 euros per tonne, this would correspond to around 14 million euros, calculates Harringer.

In any case, the Agrana Group was able to convert its ethanol production well in its half-yearly balance sheet for 2022/23 (March 1 to August 31): The operating result more than doubled in this period to EUR 86.5 million thanks to the improved ethanol business .

Revenues rose by almost 26 percent year-on-year to EUR 1.79 billion. However, the Ukraine war had a negative impact: EUR 91.3 million had to be written off in the fruit segment.

Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 11 million euros were generated in the first six months. For the year as a whole, Agrana expects an increase of more than 50 percent compared to the previous year (EUR 24.7 million).

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