Eni is carrying out the initiative in conjunction with US-based technology firm UOP. The new plant will mark the first commercial application of the companies’ co-developed ‘ecofining’ technology. The firms hope that the initiative will help them to cater for the growing demand for biofuels throughout Europe.

The so-called ecofining process uses catalytic hydroprocessing technology to convert vegetable oils to a green diesel fuel. The product, a direct substitute for diesel fuel, features a high cetane value (the measure of the combustion quality of diesel) of approximately 80.

Compared to diesel found at the pump today, which ranges from 40 to 60 cetane, green diesel offers value as a blending stock for refiners seeking to enhance existing diesel fuels and expand the diesel pool, Eni and UOP commented.

UOP has already completed the basic design for the first unit, which is expected to come online in 2009. Eni also plans to install several additional ecofining units at its other wholly-owned and affiliate oil refineries throughout Europe.

This project is part of Eni’s overall commitment to sustainability, said Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni. This facility will both provide significant value to Eni’s refining operations by producing an ultra-high-quality diesel and fulfilling the proposed European target to grow the renewable energy supply to 12% by 2010.

UOP and Eni have worked closely to develop a process for green diesel production that uses existing refinery and fuel distribution infrastructure while at the same time producing a high-quality renewable fuel, added Jennifer Holmgren, director of UOP’s renewable energy & chemicals business unit.