Rapid advances are also being made in the development of separators which facilitate the lucrative (and climate friendly) utilization of by-products. In the autumn, a large algae production plant went into operation in China. Scrubbed flue gas from a coal-fired power station is fed to the algae. The algae plant is capable of capturing up to 2,500 kg of CO2 per day in the form of biomass. The algae absorb the carbon dioxide and metabolize it into substances such as fat and carbohydrates.
Special separators harvest the algae and concentrate the biomass. The process generates additional value-add from gas emissions through the sale of valuable protein to the animal feed industry. In this instance and in many others, the combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, IT and biotechnology makes it possible to optimize existing production processes and generate profitable byproducts.
What Bio–Economy and Bio–Technology Mean for Plant Engineering
The plant engineering industry is also exploiting new opportunities. So far, output cost optimization and modernization of old production assets play a bigger role than the construction of new biorefineries. Bioethanol and vegetable oil added to fossil fuel are only the beginning in the petrochemical industry. They are mostly still made from agricultural crops.
There is a public consensus however that competition with food production must be avoided. Next-generation biofuels will be made from wood, straw, food residue and plant or animal industrial waste rather than food products. A number of pilot plants are already in operation.
Flexibility is the Key for Successful Bio–Technology
The chemical industry is also getting ready to produce platform chemicals such as glycerin or starch from agricultural feedstock. To do that, it will need components, equipment and process systems that offer production flexibility and are designed to adapt to varying types of feedstock without putting overall operations at risk. Reducing the logistics costs (which can be considerable) is another deliverable for plant engineering. Oil and biomass will be used to fire power stations in either parallel or alternating mode.
Why the age of organic hydrocarbons is not yet over – but could be any time soon on page 5!
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