Digitalization in Biodiesel: A Conversation with Novozymes

February 21, 2023

I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Lindström, Global Marketing Manager for Biodiesel at Novozymes. He is responsible for the overall commercial strategy across the globe, as well as the innovation pipeline for the development of new solutions including the FlexFit® technology offering.

During our discussion, Robert shared how he and his team are helping drive biodiesel production at scale, and how AspenTech tools allow them to be more efficient while they support the development of engineering projects.


Gerardo Munoz (GM): What can you share about the role of enzymes in the biodiesel industry?

Robert Lindström (RL): Enzymes are biological catalysts that can be used with many feedstocks in food, biochemicals, fuels and many other applications. Today, even though most of these applications use non-biological chemical catalysts, there is a large market opportunity for enzymes as industrial catalysts. Traditional chemical catalysts have been used for decades—there's no doubt about their effectiveness. But, in some cases, they could wear down equipment in one or two years or lead to unplanned or unscheduled downtime of equipment. With enzymatic catalysts, there are also sustainability and economic considerations. There are capital and operating costs needed to produce biodiesel, and at the end of the day, we want these enzymatic alternatives to help reduce the total production cost and allow the biodiesel producers to achieve R OI faster.


GM: How is Novozymes helping to address these challenges?

RL: We are breaching existing gaps by becoming a technology provider who can offer a broader scope of services around our enzymes. We have been on this journey for a couple of years and have received very positive feedback from the market on our FlexFit technology offering. Enzymes are very sophisticated. As a catalyst manufacturer, we have always had a good understanding of the enzyme costs. However, it can be challenging to understand the heat and power consumption, the raw materials requirements, or the other utilities needed and the overall impact when changing to an enzymatic process. Historically, we have been relying on our customers to figure this out.

But we identified that not all our customers are equipped for this. Our experience enables us to provide them with necessary guidance to develop cost-effective biodiesel facilities and to operate these plants efficiently while using our catalysts. This is something that our industrial bioprocessing customers have been looking for in the past, and now, we can provide more value beyond just showing that the enzyme can do the job.


GM: What is the role and value of AspenTech solutions as part of this work?

RL: As we design and estimate equipment costs, we need to translate the biochemical reactions information into reactor sizing, mass balance and other engineering information. The process models in Aspen Plus®, along with the component library, help us bridge this gap between concept and presentation.

We are taking lab-scale biochemistry data and converting it into something useful for an engineering project. This gives me confidence in the work that we do for our customers and helps the producers involved in these large biodiesel projects to trust that they will not have disruptions in their operations.

This is a very traditional industry, and with the engineering services we offer, supported by AspenTech tools, we are convincing people to use enzymes and our technology. We show them that the lab scale process will work commercially, and we are providing them with the basic engineering that the process will be cost-effective and will deliver the greatest value.


GM: How do you see all this in terms of helping to scale biodiesel production?

RL: During recent years, we have seen increased complexity in biodiesel production. To help biodiesel producers overcome these challenges, we launched our FlexFit technology. In the FlexFit program, we conduct feasibility studies helping producers understand early in the project stages all the equipment required and the associated cost. Conceptual engineering studies help producers select the most adequate technology and make investment decisions.

Through basic engineering studies, we enable biodiesel producers to go to any engineering company for detailed engineering, procurement and construction—confident in the performance of the plant if they adhere to our guidance. By doing this, they are also saving money and reducing their time to market.


GM: How has AspenTech impacted the way you work?

RL: As a biochemistry-oriented company, we go to the lab and do experiments to obtain information. But it was taking us months in the lab to be able to provide our customers with some insights into the feasibility of the project, and this was not scalable.

Now that we are using Aspen Plus to model the process, we are seeing significant changes in how we work. Our R&D team is working on the lab to feed the Aspen Plus model, instead of doing experiments based on conceptual data. This helps us propose process designs to our customers more effectively and more confidently, and in less time.

I see this as a type of digital transformation that is helping us unleash the potential of enzymes as industrial catalysts. We are still using lab data, but we are thinking differently about how we use it and how we are more efficient in gathering this data to be able to deliver more value to our industrial clients.

Learn more about how Novozymes is driving biodiesel processes at scale.

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