Europe’s first and only carbon-negative biorefinery has opened in Istanbul. The 2,500 square metre facility will create jet fuel from algae whilst capturing 1,200 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Mustafa Varank, the Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology, says they want Turkish Airlines to carry out its first flight using fuel from the biorefinery by the end of 2022.
The facility is located inside the campus of Boğaziçi University. Algae feedstock is grown in a marine farm on the Black Sea adjacent to the compound. All algae processing occurs on-site. The biorefinery features a filtration and pasteurisation unit, a desalination unit, and an anaerobic digester. On top of biofuel, the facility can transform algae into human food supplements, pharmaceuticals, and animal feed. Byproducts from these manufacturing processes can be turned into biofertiliser and biogas.
The refinery is part of Turkey’s Integrated Biorefinery Concept for Bioeconomy Driven Development (INDEPENDENT) project, which began in 2019. The project aims to develop algal products that can free Turkey from fossil fuel dependence. It is supported by the EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance Programme (IPA). Eighty-five percent of the project’s €6 million budget comes from the EU. The rest comes from the Turkish Ministry of Industry and Technology.
Geopolitical and security considerations have played a significant role in driving Turkey to the forefront of European bio-innovation. The Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies think tank identified fossil fuel imports as Turkey’s biggest vulnerability during the 2010s. Turkish imports of fossil gas are heavily dependent on Russia. Relations between these regional heavyweights have been strained over the last ten years, particularly over their strategic interests in the Syrian Civil War.
Turkey’s economic relationship with the EU has also fuelled recent sustainability initiatives. In October 2021, it finally ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement. In August 2021, it prepared its first Green Deal action plan. It details a roadmap for Turkey’s green transition, including limiting carbon emissions, installing a green and circular economy, providing green finance, and achieving a clean energy supply. The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner and reducing industrial emissions will be essential to avoid export tariffs under the European Commission’s planned carbon tax.