Research and technological development

GRI indicators:

The ORLEN Group is pursuing the objectives outlined in its strategy, with a particular focus on maximising its integrated margin by increasing the refining conversion rates, improving the efficiency of asset management and the production capacities, and extending the petrochemical value chain. Support for R&D projects will soon be strengthened, following completion of the state-of-the-art Research and Development Centre.

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In 2019, new capacities, including the metathesis unit, were launched . They will be a major driver of our integrated margin, but also a tool to increase the production plant’s operational flexibility. Moreover, the launch of the PPF splitter at ORLEN Lietuva will position the Lithuanian subsidiary as a significant player on the European petrochemical market.

PKN ORLEN is continuing intensive work on projects outlined in its Petrochemicals Development Programme . In 2019, it resulted in the execution of a technical consultancy and PMC+ contract for the Olefins project. In addition, major milestones were reached in our strategically important bio projects , including the purchase of a licence and front-end engineering design for a HVO unit.

Numerous growth-oriented activities are also being pursued by other ORLEN Group companies. They include a project to intensify fertilizer production at Anwil, which will deliver a capacity addition and plant upgrade, while allowing the company to leverage the economies of scale and synergies with the Group’s other operations. Further ambitious projects are planned at the ORLEN Południe Group, including the construction of one of Europe’s most advanced propylene glycol units and a 2nd generation bioethanol unit. The Unipetrol Group is at the final stage of work on a new polyethylene unit with an annual capacity of 270 thousand tonnes. A project to increase distillate yields is under way at the ORLEN Lietuva Group, aimed at maximising margins.

The key objectives pursued by the ORLEN Group are expected to improve the efficiency of crude oil processing at its production plants, ensuring environmental compliance and intensifying petrochemical production, with concurrent process and energy efficiency gains, through the implementation of the Petrochemicals Development Programme.


PKN ORLEN continued its efforts aimed at constructing three petrochemical facilities under the Petrochemicals Development Programme, namely the Olefins, Phenol, and Aromatic Derivatives plants.

As part of the first project, work was under way in 2019 on its business optimisation with a view to maximising the rate of return on the investment. Also, a technical consultancy and PMC+ (Project Management Contractor) contract was executed, which will help the Company to optimally prepare the project and deliver it within the planned budget and schedule. A licence agreement and front-end engineering design contract for the Phenol plant were concluded with UOP under the Phenol II project. As regards Aromatic Derivatives, work is ongoing to maximise the rate of return on the investment and to effectively integrate the new plant with other assets of the ORLEN Group.

As part of the BIO development , a number of other economically viable projects are being carried out, primarily at the refinery, including the construction of a separate unit for the production of biofuel components through the HVO process. In 2019, the licence and front-end engineering design were purchased under the project. Another significant venture is the construction of a visbreaking unit, which will increase the conversion rate of crude into high-margin distillates.

As part of the Research and Development Centre project, the building permit was obtained, preparatory work on the construction site was completed, and a contract with the project’s general contractor, Budimex S.A., was executed on April 24th 2019. The following works were completed by the end of 2019: design work for the main facilities, construction work on the office building, and major works related to external systems and utilities.

In 2019, R&D projects were carried out jointly with Polish universities and scientific institutes. Such cooperation also involved foreign research centres, participating in joint initiatives under Horizon 2020. More than 50 R&D projects were in the pre-implementation or implementation phase in 2019, of which five were co-financed out of national public funds (the INNOCHEM sectoral programme) and under EU programmes (Horizon 2020). An example worth mentioning is the completion of the essential part of research on the ‘Development of a process technology for hydrotreatment of diesel oil fractions with vegetable oils as a potential source of bio-components for diesel oil’. Following industrial tests in 2018, in 2019 approval tests were carried out concerning the use of diesel oil blended with a co-processed component. The work outcomes served to define the quality guidelines for diesel oil products. In addition, work on the KORMON project was continued in 2019, with a view to developing and installing dual corrosion sensors at the refinery.

In 2019, PKN ORLEN was also engaged in studies into the use of the innovative MaxEne technology from Honeywell UOP, which should contribute to achieving higher margins on fuels and petrochemicals at the Płock production plant. Should a decision on its implementation be made, the Płock production plant would be the first plant in Europe and the second one in the world to implement the MaxEne technology increasing the yields of high-margin products, such as gasoline, ethylene and paraxylene.

In 2019, PKN ORLEN published its Strategic Research Agenda, which defines strategic areas of investment in innovation, new technologies and business models that are key to strengthening its competitive position until 2030+. The Strategic Research Agenda is a tool which, while taking account of long-term challenges in the competitive and legislative environment, translates the goals of PKN ORLEN’s business strategy into specific areas of research, development and innovation activity.

Eleven key innovation domains have been identified:

  1. Refining and petrochemical process technologies
  2. Petrochemical product mix expansion
  3. Next-generation materials
  4. Fertilizer business expansion
  5. Regulatory compliance
  6. Efficient and low-carbon energy generation
  7. Production and supply chain digitisation
  8. Modern customer and service station of the future
  9. New value chains
  10. Innovative and digitally secure organisation
  11. Hydrocarbon exploration and production technologies

Thirty research programmes have been identified and prioritised within the domains listed above to provide a framework for innovation and R&D projects. Such a structure will enable efficient innovation management and comprehensive technology advancement across all business segments. Innovation will also help the Company to seize the opportunities that come with the development of new business models and transformation of many neighbouring industries, including electromobility, recycling, e-commerce, and logistics. The SAB places a strong focus on the need to further advance and adapt the technologies that shape today’s reality, namely artificial intelligence, automation and BigData. Advances in technology enabling compliance with regulatory requirements and implementation of greenhouse gas emission and other environmental policies will play a major role.

The Unipetrol Group’s

R&D projects are carried out through the Unipetrol Research and Education Centre (UniCRE) and Polymer Institute Brno (PIB). In 2019, further activities were undertaken under projects related to the production of biofuels and alternative fuels, as well as raw materials for their production and quality evaluation. For example, long-term research into the utilisation of vegetable oils and used cooking oils as feedstock for biofuel production delivered positive results. These topics were addressed in the conclusions prepared jointly with PKN ORLEN’s R&D unit for the Horizon 2020 programme. Efforts to obtain financial grants will be continued in the next year. Presently, another rapidly growing research area is the pyrolysis of plastic waste. In the petrochemical segment, work was continued to develop the portfolio of polypropylene and polyethylene products. 2019 witnessed significant development of the company’s research infrastructure in connection with the testing of a new Polyethylene (PE3) unit. Unipetrol continued to focus on monitoring the quality of monomers, obtaining the necessary certificates, and on catalyst testing and development. Furthermore, the company was engaged in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency, utilise waste heat, optimise technologies, and upgrade energy generation sources. In an effort to adapt its product range to current regulatory changes, the company also carried out research into hydrogen technologies, alternative sources for fuel and polymer production, and other projects aligned with the circular economy concept. Unipetrol was strongly engaged in cooperation with universities of Prague, Brno, Liberec, Usti, and with foreign research institutions. Major R&D activities in 2020 involved the production of biofuels, purchase and launch of a pilot plastic waste pyrolysis unit, stabilisation of the PE3 unit, and development of the polypropylene and polyethylene products portfolio.

Grupa ORLEN Lietuva

In 2019, the ORLEN Lietuva Group continued its project to construct a new hydrocracker. Implementation of this technology will increase the rates of crude oil conversion, reducing the output of heavy refining fractions and maximising margins. The project will also help meet the new, more stringent quality requirements applicable to the production of heavy oil fractions imposed by the IMO regulations.

Other work going on in 2019 was aimed at improving the plant’s processes and increasing their efficiency. To this end, the PPF splitter unit was launched to produce polymer grade propylene from sub-standard gas feedstock. In addition, in order to comply with the more stringent SO2 emission requirements, the company began using natural gas in the plant’s processes.


ANWIL made further progress on its development work to increase fertilizer production by 0.5m tonnes annually, to approximately 1.5m tonnes. 2019 saw the launch of construction work on three key units of the complex, i.e. the nitric acid, neutralisation, and granulation units. Expansion of the fertilizers segment was prompted by growing demand for these products.

ANWIL also continued its joint research projects with the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (agricultural engineering) and with the New Chemical Syntheses Institute (possible use of gypsum from the desulfurisation unit). Research into the possible application of potassium sulfate from biofuel production as an additive to nitrate fertilizers was run in collaboration with the Wrocław University of Technology. In the course of reviewing the existing raw materials base, CAN production tests were carried out for new anti-caking agents. Seeking to forge stronger ties with the ORLEN Group research centres, the company signed cooperation agreements with the Polymer Institute Brno with respect to quality testing of PVC, fertilizers, and plastic colorants.

An assessment of the economic rationale for a change in the Continuous Initiator Dosing (CID) method was also continued. As part of the work on the polymerisation unit, an ammonia water injection system was designed and implemented.

ORLEN Południe Group

The ORLEN Południe Group signed a contract for the construction of Poland’s first unit to produce eco-friendly propylene glycol. The new plant with an annual capacity of 30 thousand tonnes will be of strategic importance to the ORLEN Group. Its construction will be possible thanks to full integration of the refining and chemical operations, as it will rely on glycerine from the production of biofuel components. Work was also continued on advanced biofuels. An agreement was signed for the purchase of a front-end-engineering design and licence for a 2nd generation bioethanol unit with an annual capacity of 25 thousand tonnes. The project will support the ORLEN Group in meeting the indicative targets. Moreover, in 2019 a decision was made to upgrade the Trzebinia CHP plant with a view to alleviating its emission intensity and improving its economic performance. Work involving market research on methanol and available production technologies was continued under the ‘Analysis of the methanol production potential of ORLEN Południe S.A.’ project. Under a contract with Fluor S.A., a feasibility study for the unit’s construction was completed. Work also continued under the ‘Biodegradable anti-caking agents for the fertilizer industry’ and ‘Development of biotechnology-based conversion of organic raw materials into lactic acid using microorganisms’ projects, co-financed under the INNOCHEM Programme.


ORLEN Oil conducted research work to implement new and modify existing products and to define new directions for the development of lubricant technologies. A number of measures were taken with a view to continuously improving the quality of oils in response to current demand reported by the sales division. Key research expenditure was incurred within the company’s strategic segments, particularly the segment of motor oils for trucks and passenger cars, and of universal and speciality industrial oils. In 2019, technologies for 66 new products were developed and implemented, including speciality and universal industrial oils, service fluids, lubricants and other oils. Also, collaborative partnerships were maintained with research and scientific institutions, as well as Polish and international standardisation, certification and opinion-making institutions that influence the development directions for lubricants.

ORLEN Asfalt

As part of its research and development work, ORLEN Asfalt began work on new applications of HiMA bitumens in trunk road building. Delivered in association with the Warsaw University of Technology, the Gdańsk University of Technology and the Road and Bridge Research Institute, the project will help meet increased demand for modified and highly modified bitumens. In addition, the company was cooperating with the R&D and production departments at Paramo to launch the production of ORBITON HiMA in Pardubice and its sales on the Polish and Czech markets. A test production run was performed in November 2019.

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