NBB In Sight

Remembering why facility design and layout are important for quality
By Myron Danzer with contributions from Brad Albin, Matt Schultes and Tim Sullivan | March 15, 2007
I remember when biodiesel quality was taking shape in the industry. As the ASTM committee met to determine the first set of biodiesel specifications, West Central's first biodiesel batch plant was already in operation. As we looked forward to those specifications, our team decided we needed to improve our biodiesel quality. On Sept. 11, 2001, our team began to design the layout for the nation's first continuous-flow biodiesel plant. Later that day, as we huddled around a small TV and watched the events unfold, we knew we were making the right decision in creating a state-of-the-art production facility that would help supply the United States with high-quality fuel and help the nation in its quest for independence from foreign oil.

In the weeks and years following 9/11, and as the biodiesel industry has grown, West Central's biodiesel business evolved into Renewable Energy Group Inc. During that time, I've discovered two key planning components to ensure plants will produce ASTM D 6751 specifications: plant design and layout.

In my experience as a National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission (NBAC) commissioner and a plant designer, I know these two vital pieces of planning will help produce quality fuel. Critically thinking through a plant design can ease the implementation of a quality management system, and the execution of in-process and finished product quality control. Having these systems in place, of course, makes meeting BQ-9000 requirements an easier process, as well

When thinking about the root source of quality, many people only think about the liquid fuel itself. I encourage you to think about how your plant design and layout play a role. The way a plant is designed and maintained aids in keeping your plant running and quality product flowing. Some site tips that can help biodiesel producers design their facilities to meet ASTM requirements include:
--Installation of a dedicated tank for product that needs to be reworked (nonconforming product or product not meeting spec)

--Product going through a three-tank rotation of 1) production; 2) isolation and testing; 3) release and shipping

--Sample hatches so proper upper, middle and lower samples can be taken

--Sampling ports on the biodiesel loadout line incorporated so proper loadout samples can be attained

--Access platform for inspection of truck/rail loading and testing areas

--Computer system storing and printing certificates of analysis and injection system for blending biodiesel into B99.9

--A plant information system, where lab records are kept along with data from the plant process

--A safe place to recycle any excess sample or outdated materials

--A training program that highlights safety

--A complete lab incorporated into the design-including all the equipment and standards that are required in the BQ-9000 program; for all other testing including feedstock, glycerin, water, chemicals, by-products of the pretreatment phase; and all in-process testing. Internal labs (built into or added on to the plant) ensure that the samples don't lose their integrity by exposure to the elements.

Don't forget to consider your staff when thinking through your recipe for plant design and layout. Pay attention to tank design for easy testing and employee comfort. Consider stairs instead of ladders and an easy-access, built-in, environmentally controlled area for retain samples. I insist that personnel be present for inspection of the truck or vessel, and installation of the seals.

Those involved in this booming industry-even fuel consumers-are taking note that fuel quality is the No. 1 ingredient for real industry growth. The BQ-9000 accreditation program is the best assurance for fuel consistently meeting ASTM D 6751 and being delivered to the customer in top quality.

Our team at Renewable Energy Group is reminded each day that the plant design and layout work we started on that infamous day in September more than five years ago is today helping us to produce the highest-quality biodiesel available.

Myron Danzer, Brad Albin, Matt Schultes and Tim Sullivan work for Renewable Energy Group Inc. and are close to the interaction between biodiesel facilities and BQ-9000. Danzer is vice president of technical and customer service, and serves as a commissioner on the NBAC. Schultes is the technical production manager, Sullivan is the quality systems manager, and Albin is director of plant sales and construction.
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