First bio diesel plant in The Netherlands fuels up

Bron: Lourens Gengler, New Energy, October 2006) Sunoil Biodiesel is the first bio diesel plant in The Netherlands. Seven investors are behind the initiative, among them the German agricultural co-operative RaiffeisenGrenzland. The plant became operational this summer.

ManagementSunoil is owned by seven regional entrepeneurs. Most of them want to stay anonymous. One of the participants in the bio diesel plant is the German agricultural co-operative and feed producer Raifeisen Grenzland. The day-to-day management of Sunoil is in the hands of general manager Wilfred Hadders and Ben Duitshof, technical manager. There are also three board members: A.P.J.C. Bos of insurance company TVM; M. Prins, general manager of participatiemaatschappij Oost and J.G.B. Lubbers, who ownes a transportation and logistics company and represents the shareholders in the board.

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The bio diesel plant of Sunoil Biodiesel is situated in the Dutch town Emmen an existing industrial estate dedicated to chemical activities. This made it possible to realise the plans within two years including planning, building permits etcetera. Thanks to the advice of a builder of a bio diesel factory in Germany everything worked out well, straight from the start. The yearly production will be about 65 000 ton. Expansion production of 200 000 ton is feasible.

Rape seed
At present sunoil only uses rape seeds to produce bio diesel. This is the easiest raw material to produce bio diesel. “As soon as we’ve got the hang of the, we will progress towards other types of oil, such as soy oil or other edible oil from the baking and frying industry example. After a cleaning procedure these oils can also be used to produce  bio diesel. Besides that other vegetable oils can be applied. Sunflower, Jatropha and olives are possible sources”, explains Wilfred Hadders, general manager of Sunoil. Together with Ben Duitshof, technical manager, Hadders is responsible for the day-to-day management of the plant.
Sunoil is a young company that is often a flying start. Duitshof was closely involved from the start in the beginning of 2005 and employed by the German co-operative Raiffeisen Grenzland. He was able to interest seven regional investors for a new initiative: a bio diesel plant.
After a short search of the region they found a suitable location for the plant at industrial estate Emmtec. “Several chemical companies are located here. A bio diesel plant at this estate made applying for permits relatively easy, no-lengthy procedures”, says Duitshof. The installation was delivered by Agrar Technik Stuttgart as a turn-key project. “This company among the best builders/constructors of bio diesel factories”, states Duitshof. Building started in november 2005. The steel construction arose in spring of next year. “Right from the start we decided to build a bigger plant than advised. initially we opted for 30 000 ton yearly production, now we have a capacity of 65 000 ton. But the location of 2500 square meters offers the possibility to enlarge the to a capacity of 200 000 ton bio diesel.”

Building progressed without too much hassle, so Hadders and Duitshof started selecting personnel early on. “We benefited from the reoganisations at some of the chemical plants.The redundant employees were happy to find a new job in the area and are highly motivated and eager. “The personal was educated and trained by Sunoil and given the opportunity to gain experience in the BDK bio diesel factory in Kyritz, Germany. After this the workers helped construct the plant. “This way they know all the ins and outs of the plant and installations. above that, they’ve got a heart for the plant. The regard it as their own”, says Hadders.
Production tests started at the end of July 2006. “The technique has proven itself, but it’s a natural product you work with so you never know at first if everything works as planned. Thanks to or motivated personnel, the davice from Agrar Technik and the good oil quality we were able to shift to full production in two weeks”, adds Duitshof.
The plant is supplied with the most modern software technology at had. In theory this means one man can run the plant. “In practice we work with a minimum of two people per shift, also because of the continuous quality control. a sample is analysed every hour in or own laboratory.”

Raw material
The high storage tanks on the factory grounds are an eye catcher. “We have a limited size plot, so we choose to use slim line tanks. The tanks tehemselves are a first for Europe as they are made of polyester. The tanks contain the raw materials, bio diesel and glycerol and for the purpose the Dutch silo producer Polem developed a specially designed quality polyester.
Raw materials are brought to Emmen by truck. Each truck load is sampled and analysed before the goods can be delivered into the storage tanks. The production of bio diesel is a batch production. Set amounts of raw material are fed into process kettles. A surplus of methanol and caustic potash serves as catalyser to sperate the triglycerine molecules from their fatty acid chains.
To enhance the contact of the methanol with the triglyceride molecules intensive stirring is required. After some time has passed, the seperation of (lighter) diesel and (heavier) glycerine is clearly visible.
The quality of the raw material is of great importance to the efficiency of the process. In principle every vegetable oil within triglyceride chains can be used. Because of its molecular structure rape seed oil is the easiest raw material to process. “It’s important that there are no free fatty acids and moisture. Rape seed is relatively unsusceptible to oxidation; however this all depends on the production and handling of the crop and the harvest conditions. Even crop variety can make a difference. Also time of harvest is important to avoid impurities and moisture in the oil. Fungi present in the crop can also influence the process and the end product”, explains Hadders. Rape seed yields about 4000 kilo per hectare, wich in turn is good for about 1300 kilo of rape seed oil. This is then processed into the same amount of bio diesel with a specific gravity of 0.88; this equals 1477 liter of bio diesel. After the chemical reaction the bio diesel is washed, dried and the surplus of methanol and caustic potash is removed. At preent the glycerine that is produced along the way is sold to a third pary. “But we would like to find a way to upgrade it ourselves. Together with the Technical University of Twente we are looking into high grade applications for the product”, according to Duitshof.

The bio diesel produced in Emmen is partly sold to Germany. Customers are several transport companies and regular petrol stations. Close to 50 percent of bio diesel remains in The Netherlands. It is sold to one of the bigger oil companies for the purpose of blending it with regular diesel. At present the oil company benefits from the fact that there is a low tax rate on the bio diesel. As of January 1st, 207 the tax benefit is lifted as blending becomes obligatory. “We are pleased that part of the production stays in The Netherlands. Originally we were under the impression it all had to be sold to Germany.
Now that the legislation is in line with European regulation blending 2 percent bio diesel is obligatory in The Netherlands as well. This means tax rates for the bio diesel will go up 37 eurocent and prices at the petrol stations will be somewhat higher”, says Duitshof. “Because of the tax rates customs checks on import and export of the bio diesel stringently. Every litre has to be accounted for in our bookkeeping. In that way customs treat us like any other petrochemical company. The big difference however is the fact that ours is a natural product, which means that the production figures can differ on a daily basis.”

Eventhough the production just started. Sunoil is already thinking about expanding the capacity. “If we were to build now, we would go for a 100 000 ton capacity straight away. That way you benefit from the efficiency due to the size of the operation. The overhead for a 65 000 ton plan don’t differ much from the cost of a bigger plant. There however a limiting factor: logistics. But being in Emmen we have two harbour that can supply the raw materials: Hamburg and Rotterdam”, explains Duitshof.
The growing demand for bio fuels as means larger imports of vegetable oil. But the competition for this is though . That’s why Sunoil is looking into alternative sources to produce bio diesel. “we are looking into the use of Jatropha oil. This bushy plant produces about ten tons of oil per hectare. In countries of origin such as Malaysia, Marocco and India this production provides employment and a new source of income for the local people. “Sunoil is considering a pilot project of 3200 hectares.