Eesti Energia produced record amounts of shale oil in first half of 2023

Auvere oil shale plant, Enefit 280.
Auvere oil shale plant, Enefit 280. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Eesti Energia produced record amounts of shale oil in the first half of this year. Alongside its increase in shale oil production, the company is also working on ways to reduce air pollution caused by the process. The Estonian oil shale oil industry is also expecting a record year for production.

Eesti Energia began producing shale oil at the Auvere plant near Narva, in late 2012, using two Enefit140 units and one new Enefit280 unit. Over the first six months of 2023, the plant has been able to pump out new record quantities of oil. In the first half of the year, 252,461 tonnes of shale oil were produced, which is significantly more than during the same period in 2022.

"In the first six months of the year, we achieved a 20 percent increase in production compared to previous years, and June was a record month for Enefit 280. The higher production volume is the result of the good work of Eesti Energia's chemists and engineers," said Eesti Energia CEO Andres Vainola.

Of the 252,461 tonnes produced in the first half of this year, 123,904 tonnes were produced by the two Enefit 140 units and 128,557 tonnes by Enefit 280. Over the same period last year, the Auvere plant produced 212,153 tonnes of shale oil.

According to Vainola, it is important to apply the lessons learned and experience gained to the new Enefit 280 oil plant, which is now being built.

"It's important that these outputs are predictable, that we can produce such quantities in a consistent manner, and that we can apply all the technological improvements we have made to the construction of the new Enefit 280-2," he said.

Last year, Eesti Energia produced 420,000 tonnes of shale oil. This year's target is 470,000 tonnes. To achieve that amount, the company will need to overhaul the record of 452,000 tonnes set in 2020.

Once the Enefit 280-2 is completed, the target will be to produce more than 700,000 tonnes of shale oil. "This is our strategic goal, if we achieve it, we will have demonstrated the value of our technology," said Vainola, who added, that a test launch of the Enefit 280-2 is planned for next spring.

In parallel with record production levels, the company is also in the process of selecting the best available technology to reduce the environmental footprint of the new Enefit 280 plant.

"Today, we are fine-tuning the details regarding what the precise production regime should be. We have considered quite a few technological innovations for the new plant in order to improve production volumes and quality, as well as to have an even smaller environmental footprint. We also want to achieve a form of flexibility, whereby, depending on the volume of liquid fuels being consumed and demanded, there could be periods when we have to increase the production of shale oil, and in some periods it will be the opposite. In some periods we will have to use more waste gas for electricity generation," Vainola explained.

He added, that these aspects were currently being finetuned in order to ensure the plant's operation make the most economic sense in all situations.

Work is also underway to transform the Auvere power plant.

"In the future, we plan to transform the products we currently market as liquid fuels into raw materials for use in the chemical industry," Vainola said.

"We recently signed a long-term supply contract with a Swedish tire recycling organization. The old tires will already be put into operation already this summer and partly replace oil shale in the Enefit plant. In the longer term, used tires will become a raw material for use in the chemical industry. That is, the oil from pyrolysis can be used to produce chemical products," Vainola explained, adding that the chemical industry also plans to make use of plastic waste.

Two Enefit140 units began operating in Auvere in 1980. The Enefit 280 started its operations in 2012. The number in the name of the unit indicates the maximum number of tonnes of shale it can process each hour. The output of the plant is called shale oil and light or heavy fuel oil, depending on its composition. Most of the shale oil is used as a component of liquid marine fuels.

Record year for shale oil production on the horizon

Eesti Energia uses Enefit technology to produce shale oil.

Estonia's largest shale oil producer, VKG, mainly uses Petroter technology but also has equipment based on so-called "old" or "Kiviter" technology.

VKG produced 583,000 tonnes of shale oil last year, while the company's target for 2023 is 665,000 tonnes. If they manage this, they will surpass their previous record amount for a single year, when they produced 637,000 tonnes of shale oil in 2019. In the first half of this year, VKG produced 331,000 tonnes of shale oil.

The Kiviõli chemical plant, part of the Alexela group, uses Kiviõli technology for its shale oil production. In 2022, it produced a company record of 102,000 tonnes for the company, smashing the previous record of 94,000 tonnes, which was set in 2019. This year's target remains in the same range.

Although Kiviõli only produced 47,000 tonnes of shale oil in the first half of the year, output was affected by a large amount of renovation work. It is therefore expected to produce more in the second half of the year.

Up to now, Estonia's record year for shale oil production was 2019, when three companies produced a total of 1,173,000 tonnes. However, if the current plans are fulfilled, then that will all change this year, with production volumes on target to exceed 1,230,000 tonnes.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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