Energy efficiency improvements need not require costly investments at all. Taking a smart look at how the existing process is performing will go a long way.

Many of the factories in Botlek are 60 years old. And, to be honest, I do surprise myself as to why things can still get better. There have been countless engineers and operators looking at those processes in that time. Have they been asleep 😴?

Well I don't think so. I think there are several reasons:

  • A chemical process in the conventional way (i.e., putting two or more chemicals together, heating and stirring) almost always produces a main product and one or more byproducts. The plant is then optimized to make as much of the main product as possible. Market conditions may change, whether temporarily or not, making the byproduct more valuable. Settings to make as much of this as possible are different from the main product.
  • I think there used to be a lot more room in the design capacity of a plant than there is today. So by pushing those limits in the operation, you could squeeze a lot more extra out of those plants than today. Especially if you unleash modern technologies on those older processes (like Multi Variable Control)
  • Chemical plants tend to be complex and extremely large. So the question is whether you've seen and tried everything in all those years. During my time as chairman of the cost savings team, an operator once found out that a drain under the main reactor was cold to the touch. He then opened that drain valve very slightly, causing it to warm up. This resulted in a productivity improvement of about 1 million euros per year 🤑. The explanation we found is that the dead spots in the reactor were getting better flow.
  • Energy price trends. This has become painfully obvious in recent years. What used not to be profitable to reduce has suddenly become so (and not by much)

But the good news is that productivity improvements do not always have to require large investments. If you follow a step-by-step plan, in which you define what you want to save or optimize, measure the current situation, propose and implement improvements (otherwise it will be useless) and secure the improvements in the organization (e.g. through training and procedures), you will come a long way.

In this blog (which I posted here on Linked-in) I and my colleague Udo describe how you can achieve a lot with this philosophy.
And here you can find another article published in Europoort Kringen in June 2023 about our optimization method.

Do you have an opinion on this? If so, give the editors a tip and we can write a blog about it or respond to it and we can all learn something from it.