5 ways biofuel producers can improve efficiency

March 3, 2022 |

By Fernanda Martins, Sr. Marketing Manager for Chemical and Process Industries at AVEVA

Special to The Digest

In a world transitioning away from fossil fuels, the business case for biofuels may soon become easier to make. But for biofuel producers to stay competitive in a burgeoning field right now, they need to keep watch over the efficiency of their operations. Unlike petrochemical refineries, biofuel producers don’t receive feedstock continuously for processing. The seasonal nature of biofuel feedstock only increases the importance of a producer’s operational reliability. When biofuel producers are operating, they have to produce with maximum efficiency and avoid any possible unplanned downtime.

Here are five ways biofuel producers can improve efficiency:

  1. Ensure operational reliability and safety during the entire season

In an asset-intensive field like biofuel production, asset reliability is foundational to successful operations. The addition of predictive analytics to an operations data platform keeps operations on track by providing early warning notifications before operations go awry. Predictive analytics can diagnose equipment issues days, weeks, or months before failure. This helps you reduce costly equipment downtime, increase asset reliability, and improve performance while reducing operations and maintenance expenses.

  1. Navigate seasonal hiring challenges with virtual training

Because many workers are hired seasonally, biofuel producers can face the challenge of quickly and efficiently training new seasonal hires while also ensuring long-term employees remain up to speed. Many biofield producers are turning to an experiential learning approach. For instance, Operator Training Simulators (OTS) combine a virtual plant with realistic dynamic behavior with a virtual representation of the graphics in the control room. Companies can use OTS to train the panel operators in any type of operating procedure, including start-up and emergency situations. It´s important to combine this experiential learning using simulator-based applications with other techniques to compose a comprehensive training program. Learners’ long-term knowledge retention can increase by 7 times through exposure to short bits of learning content over time, called microlearning. This approach includes three- to five-minute daily training sessions. Microlearning offers companies the opportunity to maximize their return from training investments. Running the training sessions in the cloud also brings additional benefits in terms of access and cost savings. Cloud-based training eliminates the need for specific hardware while making training available to trainees from anywhere and anytime.

  1. Shorten capital projects with optimized design

With the pressure of a dynamic market, biofuel producers should be seeking to increase operational efficiency and take advantage of the latest new technology to increase competitiveness. They need to optimize the design of new facilities or even find ways to modernize and improve existing facilities. To make capital projects feasible, producers want fast engineering cycles to initiate production as soon as possible while also mitigating project risks and ensuring safe operations later. To accomplish this, producers can rely on digital twin and cloud-based technologies. The cloud is critical to enabling collaboration among different disciplines and ensuring information consistency across the entire project lifecycle—avoiding engineering errors, rework, and project runaways. Digital twins can properly represent the process behavior in an engineering package. Because process behavior changes according to operational conditions, the only way to represent process behavior efficiently is by having a process simulation capable of running hundreds of scenarios within minutes. In this way, a complete engineering package that has the process simulation and 3D visualization aligned with the other required disciplines (mechanical, electrical, etc.) in the cloud enables companies to mitigate project risks and ensure a fully optimized plant.

  1. Optimize operations to save energy and natural resources

Energy consumption in biofuel production presents a significant cost. Not to mention, margins in biofuel production still remain slim. Sustainable fuel producers need to ensure their operations are also sustainable—managing energy use and reducing waste. Streamlined operations with a digital thread throughout operations ensures that companies are only using the necessary raw materials while also monitoring and reducing energy consumption at the same time.

Producers find that ensuring quality and keeping costs at a minimum means embracing the latest applications for industrial data—cloud-based solutions, advanced analytics, AI, and digital twins. For instance, by combining operational data management with AI-based models like Advanced Process Control (APC), producers can run operations with minimum variability and avoid unnecessary spikes of energy consumption. Another option for optimization might be setting the model for maximum production keeping energy consumption within a certain operational range. In either case, the latest technologies allow producers to keep operations stable while avoiding waste and rework.

  1. Empower your teams with data

Most ethanol producers are corn-based and located in the Midwest, but they may have remote workers spread out across the county. The modern working landscape looks very different than it did ten years ago. It’s not uncommon to see distributed operations teams—workers in the field with tablets, data engineers working from home, and management overseeing performance in the office. Today, a strong data backbone and cloud-based applications can enable your teams with the information they need to ensure decisions are timely and accurate.

About the Author

Fernanda Martins is Sr. Marketing Manager for the chemical and process industries at AVEVA. She holds a B.Sc. in chemical engineering from the Universidade de São Paulo and a post-graduation degree in business administration. Currently, she is responsible for marketing for the chemicals industry globally. Her main activities include market research and analysis, global marketing campaigns, content creation, and supporting AVEVA and customers to build a sustainable industry.

 

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