Crown’s Next Step in Biofuel Innovation
Crown’s recently completed Liquids Pilot Plant offers customers access to a state-of-the-art continuous-process environment.
As the world decarbonizes transportation fuels, the role of liquid biofuels will expand. The production of renewable diesel within the U.S. has risen dramatically in the past few years, and that growth is expected to continue. The latest announcements of new investments in biobased diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) have one thing in common: They are all focused on innovation. Many of these ventures are describing new technologies or processes, while others are keying in on new feedstock choices. The biofuels industry is turbocharging the need for novel oilseed crops and new ways to create value from waste oils. The importance of innovation in biofuels is clear.
Crown has been innovating in the oilseed-processing industry for over half a century. And, in the past several years, we have invested significantly in our commitment to innovation. In 2019, Crown moved its headquarters to a new purpose-built office in Blaine, Minnesota, with a 15,000-square-foot Global Innovation Center.
Shortly after moving into the new space, Crown commissioned and began processing a variety of oilseeds and other materials in the Global Innovation Center. The new pilot plant operates much like a full industrial-scale plant, where the seeds are received, cleaned and prepared before moving to the solvent-extraction building. Then, the desolventized meal can return to the preparation building for further processing. This new piloting capability has been essential for Crown’s clients who work with plant-based proteins and other specialty-extraction processes. For the renewable fuels market, Crown is working with clients to extract vegetable oils for use as feedstocks in renewable diesel and SAF.
Our Global Innovation Center has been and continues to be critical for clients who want to try new things, to process traditional oilseeds in new ways, or to step outside oilseeds altogether. Their reasons for choosing to pilot with us are varied. In some cases, it’s all about process development. In other cases, it simply creates enough product volume to aid in identifying and developing a market.
Crown’s most recent addition to the Global Innovation Center focuses on renewable fuels pretreatment. While earlier trials produced crude vegetable oil from oilseeds, Crown can now pretreat those oils and fats to make them RD Ready™ to produce SAF, renewable diesel (also known as HVO) or any other biofuel. The pretreatment portion of the pilot plant performs the same operations as a full-scale Crown pretreatment plant. The system is fully automated and operated from workstations within the control room. During operation, we collect and analyze samples in our fully equipped and staffed laboratory. In many cases, the laboratory analysis helps us adjust parameters as we optimize a pilot-plant run to achieve specific objectives.
Perhaps the aspect most relevant for the renewable fuels space is risk mitigation. As renewable fuel producers look to incorporate feedstocks with lower carbon intensity, the quality of the pretreated feedstock must be preserved. Commodities such as waste cooking oil and other nontraditional streams have a wide variety of contaminants depending on their origin and path to the pretreatment plant. Strategies for removing these contaminants can be tested, validated and documented with the pretreatment pilot plant. This type of risk mitigation is invaluable for the success of a project.
Crown’s pilot plant also provides excellent opportunities for training. It’s possible to see and interact hands-on with equipment like that in full-scale plants. The pilot-plant experience can be further enhanced with classroom education and access to our seasoned engineers and technicians.
Crown’s Global Innovation Center and renewable fuels pretreatment pilot plant is fully operational, and we are adding even more capabilities. We are finishing installation of a tower that includes a full deodorizing column to complete our edible-oil piloting capabilities. The tower includes a fat-splitting column and a distillation column for fatty acids or methyl esters. These unit operations give us several tools to choose from as we look to maximize contaminant removal from raw materials. We expect to commission these columns later this summer.
These processes and equipment are already generating new knowledge and discussions, but there is more to do. As Crown continues along the path of innovation, we will create additional tools. Our R&D team already has plans and the space to add yet more equipment and processes. New feedstocks, novel oilseeds and creative startups in the industry will push all of us to advance.
Author: Bill Morphew
Global Vice President Sales-Liquids Segment
CPM | Crown Global Companies