bioprocess biofuel saf ots corys

Bioprocess: INDISS PLUS® goes Vegan®

david de gruyl 125

David de Gruyl,
Axens’ Director of Digital Solutions for North America

Already operational since 2019 at the Total Energies site in La Mède (France), Axens’ Vegan® technology will be deployed in seven new production units in the United States, Europe and Asia over the next three years. This ramp-up requires a generic training simulator, which Axens is developing with the support of CORYS using INDISS PLUS® software.

Vegan®, developed by Axens, and available to industry since 2011, is a technology that is original in two ways. Firstly, it works with a very broad range of renewable raw materials: vegetable oils, used cooking oils, animal fats, residues from the production of edible vegetable oils, pine oil, etc.

The same process for renewable diesel and biokerosene

Secondly, it is versatile. The same reactor can produce renewable diesel, which can be blended with their fossil equivalents in any ratio, or biokerosene. The biokerosene product in particular is becoming increasingly important to meet the aviation sector’s blended demand for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).

No matter what the end product, the quality is excellent, particularly in terms of cold properties.

"Our bioprocessing portfolio is growing over the years and Vegan® is an important part of it," says David de Gruyl, Axens' Director of Digital Solutions for North America. "At the same time, of course, we are still very present in fossil processes."

La Mède (France): 640,000 tons/year capacity thanks to Vegan®

Vegan® reached its first industrial milestone in 2015, when the TotalEnergies refinery in La Mède, France, chose to convert it into a biorefinery. It now processes 640,000 tons/year of renewable feedstock for the production of renewable diesel and biokerosene.

“It was a first: it would have been premature to develop a training simulator at the time," explains David Degruyl. However, our teams spent several months on site, mainly to support the in-house training centre.”

2023 marks a new milestone: we are no longer talking about one site to be converted, but seven to be built! Axens keeps the confidentiality of its clients but says they are geographically based in the United States, Europe and Asia, and that they will all be operational within three years. For the first two units, start-up will be as early as 2023.

Introducing novices to the world of refining

"This time, says David Degruyl, "the training simulator is essential, especially as we have five years of of industrial feedback and experience. We need to prepare the site teams who are new to this technology. What's more, the owners of the units are not from the refining world: they are newcomers to whom we need to pass on some of our experience in large-scale industrial operations."

Axens has been using INDISS PLUS® to model processes for many years, and the use of this solution was almost a matter of course. Nevertheless, in 2017 a benchmark was carried out to compare it with other tools on the market. It confirmed David Degruyl’s choice:

"INDISS PLUS® offers much more robust models whose behaviour is true to reality in all configurations, from no-load starts to emergency situations. It also produces aesthetic and clear images, which makes learning easier. Finally, we have had an excellent relationship with CORYS for many years; they are a partner we can rely on.”

Content and scenarios for operators and engineers

The simulator is intended for operators and site engineers. For the former, it will provide content focused on the day-to-day operation of Vegan®, in nominal operation and in the event of an incident. For the latter, it will also provide theoretical input, for example on transients or understanding chemical phenomena in the reactor.

"Vegan® has a relatively moderate level of complexity," explains David Degruyl, "with a stage of hydrodeoxygenation of the oil by treatment under hydrogen at elevated pressure, followed by a transformation stage of isomerization and hydrocracking. However, I would like to stress that we are dealing with teams that are new to our industry: training is essential for the correct use of the units."

40 employees trained in 2023

In particular, Axens is developing training scenarios inspired by its teams’ decades of experience with all types of reactors. As for the specific aspects of Vegan®, the training scenarios will be based on the knowledge and experience acquired with actual industrial plants. In 2023, around 40 operators and engineers will be trained on this simulator.


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