A labyrinth of endlessly winding pipes, tall smokestacks and intertwined structures is what the workers in blue helmets and blue protective uniforms confidently wind their way through. They busy themselves with turning valves, welding pipes and putting up the scaffolding. They get on their bicycles to reach their work locations more quickly – the 320 hectares of the Total refinery Mitteldeutschland are equal to 500 soccer fields put together. A 140-meter-high flare stack, its flame burning night and day, towers over the plant and is visible from afar. The refinery could aptly be described as a self-contained world of its own.
Total’s refinery Mitteldeutschland in Leuna is one of the most modern industrial plants in Europe. Its output products include gasoline, heating oil, liquefied gas, diesel and methanol – indispensable raw materials for any economy. It is easy to see that operating and maintaining such a huge facility is no simple task.
The technicians deployed here by the Mannheim-based industrial services provider Bilfinger are no strangers to the challenges that the plant and its operation present in practice. For 24 years now, the company has been working with the refinery in Leuna, assisting with various modernization and expansion measures, for example. Only recently, the Total refinery awarded Bilfinger two further major contracts worth roughly EUR 30 million: The first involves exchanging the reactor systems; the second, performing the turnaround for the plant’s POX methanol facility. More than 800 Bilfinger specialists will be involved in these two projects.
The first of them – replacing the six reactor systems – will have to be carried out in the midst of ongoing production operations and, if at all possible, without any downtimes. This is because the reactor systems, along with the downstream plant components, convert heavy petroleum residues from the refinery into methanol, a key industrial input chemical, by means of partial oxidation (POX). This will be the most extensive refurbishment work ever done on the Leuna plant, which is one of the last industrial holdovers from the Communist period in Eastern Germany. The project is expected to result in a 20% increase in the volume of methanol produced.
A project of this magnitude requires careful advance preparation; accordingly, planning was begun as early as at the start of 2019. Gerald Weber has been looking after the plant’s maintenance for a long time. The twenty-year veteran of Bilfinger’s Engineering & Maintenance service line explains how he and his team will bring the plant up to the latest technical standard: “We will be removing and modernizing each of the reactors individually, which weigh between 60 and 70 tons – a process that will take 85 days each. Our tasks will also include building a new burner-cooling system.”
The project’s logistics present a particular challenge: The plant components to be installed are big and heavy. Thus, a special crawler crane with a capacity of 600 tons will be used to fit the reactors into place. Several days will be needed just to set up and remove the crane and to prepare its operating lane – a process that will have to be repeated for each of the six reactors. Transporting the crane and its appurtenant equipment will require some 50 trucks. Weber provides the details: “So you see that our services consist of more than the pre-assembly work and the conversion as such. Just as important is our preparatory planning and our coordination of the various trades on the construction site. In the end, everything has to run like clockwork. It’s high-precision work. Of course, safety always comes first.” The reactors are scheduled to be replaced by the end of 2021, thereby completing the project.
By this time, the second contract awarded to Bilfinger – the refinery’s turnaround in the fall of 2020 – will also have been completed. Gerd Braune, the engineer at the Bilfinger Engineering & Maintenance service line who is supervising the turnaround, explains: “Operators are obligated to shut down their plants in this way at regular intervals. This sort of general inspection is intended to ensure that the plant remains technically reliable, legally compliant and environmentally friendly. We will be making the plant fit for the next six years while providing top-to-bottom maintenance.” The plant has to be kept idle while all this is going on, Braune points out, thereby causing substantial turnover losses for the operator: “Our job is to keep these losses as small as possible. Every additional day of downtime for the plant increases the economic damage our customers stand to suffer.”
In order to keep such downtimes as short as possible, Bilfinger has developed its own in-house concept for executing turnarounds. “How we go about it exactly is a trade secret,” says Braune and laughs: “But I can say this much: Efficient scheduling and work planning are essential. Another factor is that our workforce is highly qualified and very familiar with the routines involved in such interventions. What’s more, we’re using digital solutions to an increasing degree.” The results speak for themselves: Every year, Bilfinger performs around 30 comprehensive turnarounds of industrial plants across Europe. The service field responsible for turnarounds has expended 4.5 million man-hours of work in recent years – and this without a
single accident entailing lost working days. This hopefully will hold true also for the turnaround of the TOTAL refinery Mitteldeutschland.
Bilfinger acts as general contractor for a number of the plant’s systems, including the POX methanol facility. The maintenance services, which have been planned far in advance, must be completed within four to six weeks. This will involve opening, inspecting and cleaning innumerable containers and pipes – and of course also repairing them if needed. Subsequently, the individual components will be inspected and certified by the German Technical Supervision Association (TÜV). Braune sums up: “What counts here is experience, familiarity with the routines, and keeping a cool head: Every move has to be executed perfectly and the relevant work steps have to be clear to all involved.”
To ensure that this is the case, giant workflow diagrams wallpaper have been hung up where everyone can see them. These depict the individual work steps and work packages, which can then be checked off as they are completed. Thus, everyone will be able to keep an eye on the big picture. As Braune puts it, “A turnaround is a like a vast mosaic composed of many small tiles representing work packages, one that has been painstakingly planned two years in advance.” In fact, a planning period this long is indispensable: Certain portions of the plant will be turned into huge construction sites for short periods of time, where many people will be expected to work in coordination at very close quarters. It goes without saying that, despite the intense time pressure involved, occupational safety and diligence will always have top priority.
With these two projects, Bilfinger will support the Total refinery in further boosting its competitiveness. The complete replacement of the reactors will form part of the “Leuna 2020+” catalogue of measures intended to make the refinery viable for the future. By ramping up its production of methanol, the refinery is reacting to declining demand for heavy fuel products. The Total refinery compound in Leuna is set to see a lot of activity in the near future!
A ground-breaking approach to keep plastics circular
Fully in line with its award-winning No Waste vision, Coveris is now introducing a new business segment named ‘ReCover’, bundling all efforts in waste sourcing, processing, and recycling to close the loop for circular plastic recycling. ReCover will act as a separate company supplying Coveris sites on an arm’s length basis but also supplying third party customers that are interested in recyclates on a quality level that are not available in the market today.
As part of its sustainability strategy, Coveris has already announced the ambition of reducing waste in all its forms. Expanding its recycling capacity and capabilities is just the next logical step for avoiding pollution and supporting customers in their sustainability efforts.
“With ReCover, we have launched a game-changing process – unique within the entire industry. With several high-impact projects in the pipeline, we are aiming at establishing a stand-alone Business Unit in the next couple of years, entirely dedicated to circular economy and closing the loop. ReCover is a platform for all mechanical recycling activities but also leads our developments to achieve food contact compliant materials.” comments Jakob A. Mosser, CEO Coveris.
To further strengthen and expand its recycling capabilities Coveris has recently acquired the site and assets from Capital Valley Plastics Blaenavon in Wales, UK. CVP is a well-established PE recycler, processing post-consumer and post-industrial waste via in-house mechanical recycling extruded mostly into building films. The Blaenavon site is equipped with the latest state-of-the-art mechanical recycling technology, with an annual capacity of 20 000 tons.
“The newly acquired Blaenavon site and assets will serve as an important recycling hub for Coveris’ Films and Flexibles operations, closing the loop for customers and for our own film production across the network. This new recycling acquisition marks a perfect start for our new company ReCover and our quest to continuously enhance our recycling offers to our customers, truly closing the loop and bringing us closer to our vision of No Waste.”, closes Mosser.
Energy management system for green hydrogen
ABB introduces its energy management system ABB Ability OPTIMAX to the green hydrogen market, to help reduce costs of production by enabling real-time visibility of energy consumption across operations.
Green hydrogen made via electrolysis – a process of using electricity from renewable sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – is widely considered an important energy vector for achieving a low carbon future. It does, however, pose significant challenges in the way of high production costs and energy intensive processes.
According to the Green Hydrogen Catapult, a global initiative made up of leading energy companies, to scale up production capacity to the 50 times needed, the cost to produce green hydrogen needs to drop by 50 percent to less than $2/kg by 2026.
ABB’s OPTIMAX supports this by serving every aspect of a hydrogen plant lifecycle, from simulation at design and engineering phases to real-time visualization and monitoring when in operation. The software measures bi-directional power flows and carbon dioxide emissions providing contextual data which operators can use to determine optimal energy consumption levels required to support plant processes and minimize waste.
The transparency offered by the solution can also be applied to increase the efficiency and safety of each electrolyzer module being operated within the plant, regulating each module’s speed, and ensuring it is only used as and when required.
“Scaling up green hydrogen production requires significant capital investment as well as high operating costs,” said Sleman Saliba, Global Product Manager Energy Management for ABB Process Automation. “Nearly 70 percent of the total operating costs to run a hydrogen plant comes from the electricity needed to split the water molecule in the electrolysis process. With OPTIMAX, for between 1-3 percent technology investment, operators can run their industrial processes in the most energy efficient way and gain up to 20 percent reduction in electricity-based costs.”
Incorporating intra-day planning, operators can also utilize OPTIMAX to plan ahead to trade competitively with the grid, developing a circular energy system that is based on forecasts of renewable energy availability against demand, also considering market electricity prices.
The solution can also be used to optimize green hydrogen integration with existing hydrogen networks and any future infrastructure that may developed.
Innovation Hub for Co-Creation of end-to-end
As part of continuous investment, GCR Group has announced the recent opening of a dedicated R&D center in La Bisbal del Penedés, Tarragona, Spain. This ‘Innovation Hub’ is intended to build on 20 years of experience in materials technology and develop short-term and long-term polymer-based solutions that minimise environmental impact. The overall company investment is expected to reach Euros 100 million by 2025. Combined with the new state-of-the-art 200,000 tonnes recycling plant opening in 2023, these investments reflect a long-term vision created when the company was founded in 2001; ’Innovating our Sustainable Tomorrow.’
While materials based on virgin polymer resins have well-defined and consistent properties, working with recycled materials or finding ways to reduce carbon footprint presents new challenges that require experimentation to solve. Often custom solutions need to be created considering the waste stream and the application. This is why GCR believes collaborative partnerships in ‘co-creation’ projects within the value chain are vital. The new 2000 square meter Innovation Hub concentrates the technical expertise of GCR’s talented team. It includes all the equipment necessary for incubation and proof of concept from development to pilot plant and final production.
Existing collaborations involve technical institutions, equipment suppliers, raw material and waste-stream suppliers, plastic converters and brand owners. GCR also offers turn-key project management where customers completely trust GCR’s capabilities. “We prefer to send you all our scrap because the quality you’re getting out of it is something we will never reach,” quoted a major converter.
GCR’s extensive materials know-how and relentless attention to quality are reflected in existing product ranges. CICLIC R-polyolefins (Recycled polyolefins) are based on ‘up-cycling’ fully traceable waste streams and can deliver similar and consistent material properties as virgin plastics with 60-80 percent lower Carbon Footprint certification.
GRANIC mineral-filled masterbatches and compounds can offer up to a 30 percent reduction in energy costs in downstream polymer processing. In addition to an extensive range of existing products, the Innovation Hub combines GCR’s comprehensive technical and processing expertise to customise products and bring solutions to the challenges encountered when using post-consumer or post-industrial waste or carbon footprint/LCA improvement. GCR can enhance the value of waste streams through, for example, compatibilizers or capturing/blocking odour-producing bacteria. In addition, it has developed bio-polymer-based and biodegradable solutions.
“We firmly believe that we have the capability, agility and vision to accelerate the circular economy,” says Santiago Sans, Innovation Director at GCR. “Through this investment, we demonstrate our belief in collaboration with like-minded partners in the value chain.”
Finding new sustainable solutions will require changes in how the plastics industry traditionally works; a combination of know-how, new ways of thinking, and a long-term vision. GCR’s investments in Innovation Hub and the new recycling plant bring new tools to help facilitate these changes. This is another example of GCR’s long-term commitment to the circular economy.