BIOFIT promotes the introduction of RetroFitting in five industrial sectors of bioenergy in Europe.
with Dr. Edgar Ahn about RetroFit projects as part of the EU-funded BIOFIT project:
We, BDI-BioEnergy International, are a member of the EU-funded BIOFIT project. The aim is to RetroFit plants in sustainable energy sectors. Dr. Ahn, could you please explain what we mean by this term?
In plant construction, RetroFitting is the term used to describe the modernization or improvement of existing process engineering plants through conversion or RetroFitting. This is usually done to convert production plants to the latest state of the art, find and eliminate weak points (so-called “bottle-necks”) and, thus, to increase production output or efficiency and/or improve product quality. Measures to improve sustainability, environmental friendliness and GHG savings in the RetroFitting sector have recently become increasingly important.
Why is RetroFitting important? How did the EU project BIOFIT come about?
The reason for RetroFitting is mostly a company’s reduced competitiveness. This may be because the production technology no longer corresponds to the state of the art – e.g. regarding environmental requirements or production efficiency – and the operator runs the risk of weakening his market position. Furthermore, also changes in the legal framework – e.g. in environmental protection – often trigger RetroFitting activities.
The EU-funded BIOFIT project is now pursuing the specific goal of facilitating the introduction of bioenergy RetroFitting in five selected industrial sectors. These five industrial sectors are involved:
- First-generation biofuels
- Pulp and paper
- Fossil refineries
- Fossil fuel combustion plants and
- Combined heat and power plants
Based on case studies regarding RetroFitting with bioenergy, positive examples shall be created in these sectors which are to encourage emulation as lighthouse projects in the respective sectors.
In close cooperation with stakeholders and market participants, the framework conditions (legal, institutional and political) for RetroFitting will be evaluated in order to identify fundamental and sector-specific barriers and obstacles. Based on this, policy makers at national and regional level will be advised to provide input for better informed policy, market support and financial conditions.
Could you please describe how a typical RetroFitting project works?
A RetroFitting project should always start with a thorough evaluation of the technical status quo. Hence, weaknesses are identified, goals defined and possible solutions developed. In addition to a technical evaluation, an economic profitability analysis of the planned RetroFitting measure should always be carried out. The RetroFitting project must then be carried out according to a strict, optimized project plan which often has to take into account extraordinary conditions, e.g. minimum downtimes of the existing production plant, maximum use of existing infrastructure, tight financial corset.
What are the hurdles for companies when modernizing plants and where can the operators of such plants get support?
The difficulty for companies considering a modernization of their plant is to find the right time to do so. As long as everything is going reasonably well, people often resist change. But if you overlook the timing, a downward spiral can be triggered very quickly, and this can make RetroFitting impossible.
A deep understanding of the technology to be modernized is a prerequisite for a customized RetroFitting. It is therefore important to rely on experts who are recognized in the industry and have relevant references. Preference should be given to one-stop shop plant engineering companies that can cover the entire value chain of a RetroFitting project – from initial evaluation through engineering to professional industrial plant construction.
You are industrial advisor for BIOFIT. How did you come to this position? What is your expertise in this field?
As a trained process engineer, I have been working in industrial plant engineering for the Austrian special plant engineering company BDI-BioEnergy International for more than 20 years, with a focus on the production of biofuels. I built up and managed the R&D department at BDI for decades and provided technical support for numerous plant construction projects. BDI has more than 60 reference projects in the industrial plant engineering field. The RetroFitting of first-generation biodiesel plants – most of which were built by competitors – has been one of our operations for more than ten years. So far, BDI has successfully modernized 27 biodiesel plants .
What advice would you give to companies that want to RetroFit their investments? What are the advantages resulting from RetroFitting?
My advice would be not to wait until it is too late to start a RetroFitting project. All the RetroFitting projects that BDI has been involved in have had a positive impact on our customers’ business models and have often ensured the survival of the company in the long term.
How do you see the future of RetroFitting?
I can see a great future particularly in the field of conversion to bioenergy, not only in the five industrial sectors that are covered by the BIOFIT project. In many cases, the decarbonization necessary for climate protection can be started quickly in a first step by converting from fossil fuels to sustainable bioenergy.
Is there anything else you would like to share with companies considering RetroFitting?
Take the time to compare the RetroFitting solutions on offer. Cheap is not always better. RetroFitting means getting a tailor-made solution for a specific customer situation. If we have learned anything at BDI over the many years in which we have successfully carried out RetroFitting projects, it is that every RetroFitting project is unique.
Thank you for the interview!