This October, a team of Pannonia Bio engineers and experts were named winners of the IChemE Energy Award 2021 for their success with the project “Decarbonizing biorefineries to produce greener bioethanol”. These awards are organized by the Institution of Chemical Engineers, a group that exists to advance chemical engineering’s contribution for the benefit of society.

This prize within the IChemE Global Awards recognises the best project, process, or product to demonstrate excellence in efficient energy use or the development of energy production methods that reduce energy intensity.

This is exactly what Julian Parra, András Volford and Graeme Hansen achieved with their project. After 3 years of hard work since the idea was conceived, the team was able to put in place an innovative new technology that reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of the Pannonia Bio biorefinery in Dunaföldvár, making our bioethanol even greener.

András Volford, Graeme Hansen and Julian Parra

With the project, which is functioning in full capacity since March 2021, “we have achieved more efficiency, lower costs and we have reduced our consumption of natural gas by 33 MW, at a cost of 5.9 MW of electricity”, said Mr. Parra, Engineering and Technology manager at Pannonia Bio.

In ethanol production, distillation and dehydration are energy intensive processes and account for a significant part of the energy consumption of the biorefinery. Smart heat integration and boosting energy efficiency of these areas were the team’s key goals to minimise production costs, minimise carbon emissions and gain competitive advantage.

This was a challenging endeavour in which to embark. It was a technically complex project because no one had ever attempted to do it at this scale before and because it involved dealing with four interconnected parts of the factory: distillation, evaporators, molecular sieves, and steam boilers.

To minimise the risks involved with compressing ethanol vapours, the equipment and surrounding processes were highly automated to facilitate the coupling of the new technology to the core plant.

Nonetheless, the team believes their efforts paid off because of the great benefits brought by the results: reducing our carbon footprint and fossil fuel consumption, as well as the implications that such a project can have in the industry at large scale since this technology is applicable to many types of distillation columns.