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1.0

INTRODUCTION

On 12th May 2015, the 3rd year student of Chemical Engineering Technology (BNN) had an
opportunity to visit UTHM Biodiesel Pilot Plant. This visit is a part of teaching and learning
(P&P) planning for Process Control (BNQ30703) subject. As an outcome from the visit it is a
requirement for the student to come out with a report to summarize the whole experience and
knowledge gained. The report is also a requirement to fulfil the subject assessment.
1.1

Objective of the visit

i.

To expose and give better understanding of the industrial process control system to

ii.

the student.
To enable the student in determining the process control that implemented in the

iii.
iv.

Biodiesel Pilot Plant; feed-forward, feedback or cascade control system.


To give hand on experience and knowledge in process control system.
To study the processes of biodiesel production.

1.2

Background of Biodiesel Pilot Plant

Biodiesel is a clean burning alternative fuel produced from domestic and renewable
resources. It is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and environmental friendly as it is free
of sulphur and aromatics. Chemically, biodiesel is a fuel composed of mono-alkyl ester of
long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. In the recent years, biodiesel
has attracted the attention of many researchers and engineers worldwide to extend the
lifetime of the fossil-based fuel. Issues in the environments, the limited investments of
petroleum, and the high cost of biodiesel as well as the oil price instability in the market,
among other things, are the major driving forces in conducting research and development in
the renewable energy sector either in the lab scale or the industrial one.
The pilot plant in UTHM with a capacity at one metric ton (MT) and operated in
batch mode under a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, has been
constructed to strengthen a promising research in area of renewable energy. Crude palm oil
(CPO) is chosen as the dominant feedstock due to the abundance of this crop in the State of
Johor which is also the biggest producer of palm oil in the Peninsular of Malaysia with
around 0.7 Mha of the plantation area for the palm trees. Owing to the grandness of the palm
oil to the community and to sustain the inherently local strength, UTHM has taken a practical
initiative to explore the potential role area in the refinery of the biodiesel production.

The biodiesel pilot plant is a significant platform especially for conducting research
and development in area of alternative energy resources that are plentiful available in Johor.
This pilot plant represents the real commercial biodiesel plant however in smaller scale. The
batch technology of the pilot plant enables us to study the performance of each unit operation
or a plant revamping if necessary without interfering the production processes, test the
operability of a control system, obtain kinetic data, determine the economic feasibility or new
process, gain the design data, screen catalysts, prove areas of advanced technology, and
provide data for solutions to scale-up problems along with technical support to an existing
process or product. The environmental impact studies such as toxic dispersion model, waste
water, and assessing process hazards are interesting areas of choices. Additionally, the pilot
plant may give better impression and inspiration to the students during experimental
activities.

Figure 1: The UTHM Biodiesel Pilot Plant

Figure 2: The block flow diagram of the plant design

Figure 3: Plant layout inside the building

Figure 4: Overall plant layout plan (unscaled)

2.0

CONTENT OF VISIT

2.1

Block flow diagram of process control and production of biodiesel plant

Figure 5: Block Flow Diagram of the production of Biodiesel Plant

2.2

Process description

The process production of the plant to produce biodiesel consists of pre-treatment, esterification,
transesterifcation, methanol recovery and biodiesel refinery.
2.2.1

Pre-treatment

Crude palm oil (CPO) stored in a heated storage tank is pumped into the pre-treatment plant for
the degumming and bleaching processes. In the degumming stage, phosphoric acid (0.5 kg) is
added to condition gums together with the bleaching earth. The phospholipids, trace metals,
oxidation products, and pigments are removed. The operating conditions are kept under vacuum
at a temperature of 90 110C to make the CPO free of moisture. The dried oil is treated with
bleaching earth or clay (10 kg) to adsorb the residual colour. The mixture of oil is the passed
through to the 10 m filter for separation of the spent earth from the oil. The obtained oil refined
in the pre-treatment plant is a bleached, degummed, dry crude oil and yellow-reddish in colour.
2.2.2

Esterification

The esterification process is required if the feedstock has more than 0.5 % by weight of free fatty
acid. Esterification increases the yield of biodiesel. When oil feedstocks contain an excess of free
fatty acids they have to go through the process of esterification. The key to effectively preparing
for the esterification process is to make sure the feedstock have been sufficiently filtered by
removing all contaminants and water. Upon filtration the feedstocks are fed to the acid
esterification process. The catalyst, sulphuric acid, is dissolved in methanol and then mixed with
the pre-treated oil. Once the mixture is heated and stirred, the free fatty acids are converted to
biodiesel. The final step of esterification is to dewater and feed the product to the
transesterification process.
2.2.3

Transesterification

The transesterification of the oil is used to convert the remaining oil completely into biodiesel.
This process and esterification are the core processes in the biodiesel production. Oil feedstocks
containing small amounts of free fatty acids are fed directly to the transesterification process.
The catalyst, potassium hydroxide, is dissolved in methanol and then mixed with the pre-treated
oil. The co-products of this reaction are biodiesel and glycerine.

2.2.4

Methanol recovery

Methanol is usually removed after the biodiesel and glycerine have been separated into two
layers, preventing reaction reversal. The methanol is then cleaned and recycled back to the
beginning of the process.
2.2.5

Biodiesel refining

Once separated from the glycerine, the biodiesel goes through a purification process, removing
all remaining alcohol and catalyst. It is then dried and stored. To guarantee the biodiesel is
without colour, odour and sulphur, an additional distillation process may be implemented. The
downstream processes are employed for the purification of the crude biodiesel, the recovery of
the methanol, and neutralization of the glycerol by-product, along with the treatment of the waste
water. Theoretically, under the appropriate conditions of pressure and temperature, in the
presence of a catalyst, each mole of palm oil requires three moles of methanol to produce three
moles of biodiesel and one mole of undesired glycerol. Since the reaction is reversible, the
forward direction is in favour toward the desired product. The esterification of free fatty acid
(FFA) and the acid transesterification reactions hereby take place in one hour with water and
glycerol as by-product. After discharging the by-products, the subsequent base-catalysed
transesterification is done in two steps. Removal of glycerol and soap formation by manually
phase separation is done before proceeding to the second step. At the end of the last
transesterification, hot water (80 C) at 5 % (w/w) is introduced gently to the vessel to capture
the remaining glycerol and a vacuum flashing follows thereafter to ensure the crude biodiesel
being free of water.

2.3

Control system room

The pilot plant in UTHM comprises of capacity at one metric ton (MT) and is operated in batch
mode under a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Control room is
defined as a component of complex system which act as a central space where a large physical
facility or physically dispersed service can be monitored and controlled.
Important features of control room include:
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
v.
vi.
vii.
viii.
ix.

The control system


System interfaces
Communications
Control room layout
Individual workstation design
Control room environment
Staffing/workload
Maintenance
Emergency response role

In UTHM biodiesel plant, the control room act as a primary centre to control the activity inside
the plant. The process monitoring is done by control room operator. Basically, in control room all
the activities inside the plant is monitored, order and decision is being made in case unexpected
event occurred. The measured parameters such as flow, temperature, pressure and level are being
controlled in the control panel.
According to Abu Huzaifa (student from BNL programme), the main objective of running
the plant that day is to remove the oil from VE203. The process is being controlled by using
automatic valve in the control room. Once automatic valve is opened, then only the process can
take place inside the plant. However, there are times when the activity inside the plant must be
done manually such as opening the hand valve through the order from control room operator.
The whole process is being monitored on a computer; with one operator make notes of all the
activities and one operator communicate with persons inside the plant.
2.3.1

UTHM Biodiesel Plant control system

Control system used: Single cascade system

Measured parameters: Temperature and control valve

What is Cascade System?


Cascade control is mainly used to achieve fast rejection of disturbance before it propagates to the
other parts of the plant. The block diagram of cascade system can be shown as below:

Figure 6: Block flow diagram of Cascade control system of UTHM Biodiesel Plant

The Cascade Control Block Diagram shows a generic cascade control system with two
controllers, two sensors, and one actuator acting on two processes in series. A primary or master
controller generates a control effort that serves as the set point for a secondary or slave controller.
That controller in turn uses the actuator to apply its control effort directly to the secondary
process. The secondary process then generates a secondary process variable that serves as the
control effort for the primary process.
The geometry of this block diagram defines an inner loop involving the secondary
controller and an outer loop involving the primary controller. The inner loop functions like a

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traditional feedback control system with a set point, a process variable, and a controller acting on
a process by means of an actuator. The outer loop does the same except that it uses the entire
inner loop as its actuator.
In the plant, the product set point temperature is set on the master (primary controller)
control loop. This is compared to the product temperature, and the masters PID output is used to
set the remote set point of the slave (secondary controller). This is scaled to suit any expected
temperature. The slave loops natural response time should ideally be at least 5 times faster than
the master.

Figure 7: The control panel located in the control room. All the parameters to be measured in the
plant are controlled from here.

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Figure 8: The equipment and activities of the plant are monitored on a computer

Figure 9: One of the control system on the control panel

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Figure 10: The compartment inside the control system

2.4

Utilities and Instruments

2.4.1

Steam system

Figure 11: Equipments and Piping in Steam System

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A steam system consists of a steam-supply or generating facility, a steam and condensate return,
water piping system, and a steam-use facility. The steam-generating facility, located in the boiler
room, consists of boilers, feedwater systems, heat exchangers, boiler and system controls, fuel
and gas handling equipment (e.g., fuel trains, stacks), and steam/water treatment equipment and
piping.
The purpose of the steam-generating facility is to provide energy in the form of thermal
energy of the steam to drive other processes in the steam-use facility. In turn, typical steam-use
facilities are designed to meet various industrial and commercial needs such as comfort heating,
food processing, paper corrugation, etc.
Steam-generating facility design is unique to the specific application and it is dictated by
good engineering practice, applicable national, state, provincial and local codes, and utility and
insurance requirements. System design and selection depend on job specific operating
requirements, boiler room structure and venting, fuel storage, and utility service considerations.
There is therefore no simple mathematical expression to correlate steam boiler room design and
application. However, there are several characteristics which help define the application and its
relevant requirements.
For a steam-generating facility, these characteristics include:
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
v.

Type of Application/Load
Operating Conditions, Requirements and Constraints
Facility Requirements and Limitations
Codes and Standards
Other Federal, State, Provincial and Local Requirements

Criteria of the Steam


i.

Determine the desired operating pressure. For existing steam-use facilities, the operating
pressure has typically been set in the past and now acts as a constraint on the system
design at hand. For new facilities, slightly more flexibility exists and yet operating
characteristics of equipment in the steam-use facility either set or limit the range of
operating pressure of the boiler.

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ii.

Determine the steam load characteristics and ultimately the profile of the steam-use
facility in its entirety (see Section I1). It is important to understand both the steady-state

iii.

load profile as well as the transient and instantaneous demands.


Determine the desired or necessary steam quality (dryness) or degree of superheat. Steam
quality ranges from 0 to 100% and is defined as the ratio of the amount of saturated
steam vapor to the total steam amount (which may consist of both saturated steam vapor
and liquid). A 100% steam quality translates to zero amount of saturated steam liquid and,

iv.

in this condition, the steam is termed to be dry.


The degree of superheat refers to the amount of thermal energy (heat) added to the steam
relative to the saturated steam vapor point of reference, typically expressed in units of
degrees Fahrenheit. For example, a degree of superheat of 50 F means that an additional
amount of heat has been added to the steam so that the final steam temperature is 50 F
greater than the saturation temperature of the steam at the given operating pressure.

2.4.2

Steam boiler

Figure 12: Steam Boiler Unit

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Steam boiler water systems generate steam for a variety of applications such as comfort heating,
humidification, sterilization, cooking and many various industrial processes. Steam boilers use
gas, oil or electricity to heat water to the point of steam generation. Steam is generated at
pressures ranging from 8 bars or greater. As the steam is used it condenses and is either returned
to the boiler via a steam condensate system or is lost as part of the process (eg. humidification).
The boiler selection process is based on an evaluation of the system and load
requirements as described above, and a comparison with the different boiler types that are
available. The steam-use facility will have certain operating requirements that are used to
establish the boiler design pressure. For example, heating systems often operate at low pressure
(a steam pressure of 2-4 bar), and would use a boiler that is designed for 8 bar. The boiler design
pressure must be higher than the operating pressure, and is usually based on common design
pressures. Steam quality, or the moisture content in the steam, may also be a requirement of the
facility. When heat is applied to water containing calcium and bicarbonate ions, the chemical
reaction that takes place result in the formation of carbonate ions that have a strong affinity for
calcium. Scale formation generally consists of calcium carbonate and must be controlled to
prevent loss of heat transfer and localized overheating that can result in boiler tube failure. The
greater the steam pressure, the more critical scale prevention becomes.
As heat is applied to water containing bicarbonate ion and carbonate is formed, carbon
dioxide gas is also released and is carried out with the steam. When the steam condenses the
carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the returning
condensate and can corrode the steam condensate piping system. This carbonic acid needs to be
neutralized to prevent costly failures due to corrosion and leaks in the condensate piping system.
As steam is generated, the minerals that were dissolved in the boiler water including sodium,
calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, chlorides, sulfate and chemical additives like phosphate
concentrate. If allowed to concentrate unchecked, they will eventually cause foaming, priming
and boiler water carryover into the steam, causing boiler water levels to bounce erratically
(possibly causing the boiler to shut off on low-water cutout) and introducing boiler water into a
condensate system not designed to handle it. The greater the steam pressure (and the smaller the
boiler water volume) the more critical the need to prevent excessive dissolved solids
concentration.

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The most efficient way to prevent calcium carbonate scale in the steam boiler is to
remove the calcium through the use of a water softener. Softeners are always recommended for
steam boilers regardless of pressure and the amount of condensate return. It is also possible to
remove the bicarbonate ion that ultimately leads to carbonic acid formation in the steam
condensate through the use of dealkalization or reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is generally
preferred because all dissolved solids are reduced, not just bicarbonate, allowing boilers to
dramatically reduce blowdown and realize the energy savings achieved by not discharging
heated, treated boiler water to the sewer.

2.4.3

Chilled water system

Figure 13: Chilled Water System

Chiller is used to remove heat from the water which is then circulated through other components
to absorb heat from the space. Water is non-corrosive, has specific heat value, fluid, non-toxic
and is cheap. This makes it an excellent choice compared to other secondary refrigerants such as
sodium chloride brines, propylene glycols, ethylene, methanol or glycerin. The chiller is the

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section of the system where an exchange of heat occurred between the water that goes to the
building and the evaporator. The water leaves the chilled water evaporator at 45F or 7C. This
chilled-water is then circulated through the entire building by the use of a pump. The water
cooled the space and pick up the heat and returns to the chiller at about 55F or 13C. The water
temperature has been heated up by 10F or 6C after cooling the space. This process is then
repeated.
Chilled water plants are complex systems. Design engineers seeking to maximize the
performance and economic benefits of upgraded or new chilled water plants need a thorough
understanding of the major equipment used in these plants. Chilled water systems typically take
on little or no make-up water the primary treatment concern is corrosion. Corrosion in any
system will shorten the life of expensive capital assets and cause potentially costly plant
operation interruptions or shutdowns. Corrosion is caused by addition of oxygen into the system
with make-up or by bacteria (anaerobic) allowed to flourish under existing deposits. Corrosion
will also occur when the pH of the system is too low or too high. A common contributor to low
pH in chilled water systems is the degradation of glycol compounds used for freeze protection.
Chilled water systems should be "closed" to make-up addition, but if there are water losses due
to leaks or draining of the system, scale-forming minerals (calcium and bicarbonate) are
introduced into the system and need to be accounted for before deposition takes place. Scale
formation can significantly affect heat transfer that increases operating costs and can also
contribute to operation interruptions or shutdowns. New systems should be chemically cleaned
prior to startup to remove oils, greases and other contaminants that naturally enter the system
during construction. Systems that have become fouled or are currently experiencing corrosion
may also need to be chemically cleaned.
Many chilled water closed systems require freeze protection when coils and other
equipment are exposed to the outdoor air temperatures of northern climates. Ethylene or
propylene glycols are typically used. These are not corrosion inhibitors but may be necessary to
protect plant assets from failure due to freezing. Entire systems may contain glycol, or only coils
exposed to harsh wintertime conditions. When coil layup is the approach, it is important to
thoroughly flush the glycol before resuming system operation to prevent the glycol from
degrading to glycolic acid, which can lower system pH and accelerate corrosion.

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2.4.4

Air Compressor

Figure 14: Air Compressor

The chiller is the section of the system where an exchange of heat occurred between the water
that goes to the building and the evaporator. The water leaves the chilled water evaporator at
45F or 7C. This chilled-water is then circulated through the entire building by the use of a
pump. The water cooled the space and pick up the heat and returns to the chiller at about 55F or
13C. The water temperature has been heated up by 10F or 6C after cooling the space. This
process is then repeated.
It is worth noting that the running cost of a compressed air system is far higher than the
cost of a compressor itself. Energy savings from system improvements can range from 20 to 50
percent or more of electricity consumption, resulting in thousands to hundreds of thousands of
dollars. A properly managed compressed air system can save energy, reduce maintenance,
decrease downtime, increase production throughput, and improve product quality.

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Compressed air systems consist of a supply side, which includes compressors and air
treatment, and a demand side, which includes distribution and storage systems and end -use
equipment. A properly managed supply side will result in clean, dry, stable air being delivered at
the appropriate pressure in a dependable, cost-effective manner. A properly managed demand
side minimizes wasted air and uses compressed air for appropriate applications. Improving and
maintaining peak compressed air system performance requires addressing both the supply and
demand sides of the system and how the two interact.
Main Components of Compressed Air Systems:
Compressed air systems consist of following major components: Intake air filters, inter-stage
coolers, after-coolers, air-dryers, moisture drain traps, receivers, piping network, filters,
regulators and lubricators (see Figure 3).
i.

Intake Air Filters: Prevent dust from entering a compressor; Dust causes sticking valves,

ii.

scoured cylinders, excessive wear etc.


Inter-stage Coolers: Reduce the temperature of the air before it enters the next stage to

iii.

reduce the work of compression and increase efficiency. They are normally water-cooled.
After-Coolers: The objective is to remove the moisture in the air by reducing the

iv.

temperature in a water-cooled heat exchanger.


Air-dryers: The remaining traces of moisture after after-cooler are removed using air dryers,
as air for instrument and pneumatic equipment has to be relatively free of any moisture. The
moisture is removed by using adsorbents like silica gel /activated carbon, or refrigerant
dryers, or heat of compression dryers.

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2.4.5

Cooling tower

Figure 15: Cooling tower system

Cooling towers are used in central air conditioning systems. The function of the cooling tower is
to cool the warm water from the chiller condenser. Following the central air conditioning system
cycle, the heat from the rooms in a building is transferred to chilled water, which is then
transferred into the refrigerant, and finally to the cooling water. The cooling tower is at the final
point of the heat transfer. The heat is transferred to the atmosphere. The heat in the cooling water
is removed by letting moving air come into contact with it. Water is normally spread out and
allowed to drop down by gravity from a height. Plastic fillings are arranged so as to increase the
wetted surface of the water while it is dropping, while at the same time provide better contact
between the air passages and the water. There are basically 2 types of designs:
i.
ii.

Cross Flow
Counter Flow

i. Cross Flow

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As the name suggests, the flow of water is at right angles to the flow of air. The cooling tower for
this type of design is usually shaped like a box. Warm water is pumped to the top of the cooling
tower where it is distributed to the sides and allowed to drop through small holes. Plastic air
intake louvers at the sides of the cooling tower allow the water to spread out while dropping. Air
from the outside is sucked into the cooling tower by several fans located at the top. The incoming
air comes into contact with the dropping water, and the latter is cooled. The cooled water is
collected at the bottom of cooling tower. This water is then pumped out again and circulated
through the chiller. The heat from the chiller is transferred to it again. The warm water then
returns back to the top of the cooling tower and the cycle starts again.
ii. Counter Flow
Counter flow cooling towers have the air passage flowing directly against the flow of the water.
As with the cross flow design, water is allowed to spread out with the help of air inlet louvers.
Their bottle like shape characterizes this type of cooling towers. There is only one single fan at
the centre. Fitted below the fan is a rotating water pipe distributor. The pipes of the water
distributor shoot water only from one side. The action of the water pressure shooting from one
side rotates the distributor. The water is thus dropped evenly over the air inlet louvers. The water
dropping by gravity meets head on with the up moving air current sucked in by the fan. The air
cools the water. The water collected at the bottom of the cooling tower is pumped to the chiller,
becomes heated up again, and is then returned back to the cooling tower for cooling. In cooling
towers, the cooling effect is achieved by evaporation of a portion of the water passing through it.
As the water is evaporated, impurities remain in the recirculating water. The concentration of the
dissolved solids increases rapidly and can reach unacceptable levels. In addition, airborne
impurities are often introduced into the water. If the contaminants are not controlled, they can
cause scaling, corrosion, and sludge accumulations which can reduce heat transfer efficiencies.
In order to control the concentrations, it is necessary to bleed a small amount of circulating water
from the system and top up with fresh water. If the site conditions are such that constant bleedoff will not control scale or corrosion, chemical treatment is necessary. Even with bleed-off or
chemical treatment, it is still necessary to control biological contamination. The growth of algae,
and other microorganisms can reduce system efficiency and may even contribute to potentially
health hazards. Biocides are used to treat the water to control the biological growths. Ozone is

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both widely known and proven effective at limiting and eliminating biological growth, such as
algae. The most logical and relevant way to use ozone within the bio-fuels industry would be in
the cooling towers. Ozone can be incorporated into an existing system with minimal system
modifications. Often, cooling tower water is treated with disinfectants such as chlorine and
bromine, which are consumable and can be costly. Ozone can effectively reduce, if not eliminate,
the need for these consumable chemicals within the cooling water loop. Ozone can be injected
directly into the cooling tower or it can be injected into the influent stream. If any biological
growth is present upon installation of an ozone system, the initial ozone demand will be higher
than actually needed during continuous use. Since ozone is not biased, it will oxidize metals,
rubber, and plastics if able to. This is a major concern and also explains the need for why the
levels of ozone in a system should be monitored at all time. Ozone generation is an emerging
technology that can be very useful and also cost-effective if it is utilized correctly and respected
for being a powerful oxidizer.
2.4.6

CPO storage tank

Figure 16: CPO storage tank

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The most suitable shape is the vertical circular cross-section tank with self-supporting fixed roof,
preferably convex in shape. Where possible, tall, narrow tanks are preferred, to minimize
exposed surface areas. Tank bottoms should be conical or sloped to be self-draining. For each
installation, the storage capacity needs to be related to the expected storage period, the rate of
turnover and the number of different products to be handled.
The tanks was not made by copper, brass or bronze as any part of the storage installation and
means of transport that has contact with the oils, such as piping, pipe connections, valves,
heating coils, temperature gauges for oil, strainers, pump, etc. or in sampling apparatus. Gauges
containing mercury should not be used. The material used for the construction of tanks is inert to
oils and fats. The tanks wall, floor and roof are coated with fiberglass or 316 stainless steel.
The tank was installed with heating facilities in order to obtain homogenous products
when they are transferred or unloaded. Heating coils are be of mild steel for mild steel tanks and
of stainless steel for coated and stainless steel tankage. The tank are insulated in temperature and
cold climate. Insulation is fitted externally to the wall of the tank and was design to avoid the
absorption of oil or water. Oil quality is preserved and energy is saved. The storage tank also
installed with temperature sensor and automatic control devices to prevent over-heating of oil in
the tank. The thermometer was carefully placed and away from the heating coils.
i. Long term storage (> 2 weeks)
Long term storage should be maintained at ambient temperature and heating should be
completely turned off. If the oil becomes solid, extreme care should be taken during the initial
heating to ensure that localized overheating or pressure build-up does not occur.
ii.

Short term storage (< 2 weeks)

To prevent excessive crystallization, the oil should be maintained within the temperature range of
5-10 C above melting point. The deterioration of oil quality cannot be stopped completely. We
can only use certain precautionary steps to minimize deterioration.

2.4.7

Waste water treatment system

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Figure 17: Waste water treatment tank


Most biodiesel manufacturing processes result in the generation of process wastewaters with free
fatty acids and glycerine (i.e. soapy water). Other constituents in the biodiesel manufacturing
process wastewater include organic residues such as esters, soaps, inorganic acids and salts,
traces of methanol, and residuals from process water softening and treatment.
Sources of wastewater include wash water which is used to remove any soaps formed
during the transesterification reaction; steam condensate; process water softening and treatment
to eliminate calcium and magnesium salts, iron, and copper; and wastewaters from the glycerine
refining process. The typical biodiesel manufacturing wastewater has high concentrations of
conventional pollutants, i.e. biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS),
oil and grease, and will also contain a variety of non-conventional pollutants.
Common pre-treatment programs show a range of BOD concentrations from 4,500 up to
37,000 mg/L. Levels of conventional pollutants in the raw wastewater are likely to be affected by
the manufacturing efficiencies (e.g., poor recovery of glycerine and methanol will result in high
BOD concentrations in the raw wastewater). In contrast, the BOD and TSS concentrations for
typical domestic wastewaters range from 110 to 400 mg/l and 100 to 350 mg/l, respectively.
2.4.8

Biological treatment (Aerobic)

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Biological treatment using bacterial biodegradation is actually possible provided that COD load
is not at the extreme which might end up disrupting and inhibiting bacterial biochemical activity.
Normally with COD load less than 10000 mg/l present in the wastewater, the bacteria should be
able to deal with it provided that urea as nitrogen source is provided in a ratio enough to sustain
its growth. However, use of this treatment option presents many obstacles and challenges
because upset of the whole biological system is very common especially in conditions whereby
carryover of methanol, glycerine or soap as the by-product can result in high strength COD
wastewater that instead becomes toxic and kills the microorganisms. Furthermore, with the
fluctuating hydraulic load rate fed to the system which is commonly seen in biodiesel plant also
means that control and adjustment has to be done immediately or else, without a stable working
system, things can be very difficult to maintain. Further investigations done by researchers in
field studies also examined and concluded there is also a relationship between high solid content
(oils and fats) in the wastewater and how it can affect the growth of microorganisms. With that in
mind, pre-treatment steps are normally introduced either using flotation principle in order to
create floc to float up, then skim off the solid materials with the help of binding agents or
electrocoagulation process can also be applied to separate out the solid content from the
wastewater.
2.4.9

Anaerobic co-digestion

Another alternative to treat the biodiesel wastewater is to use it as co-digestion feedstock


together with the glycerine or any other types of organic waste using the anaerobic digestion
process route to generate biogas. Usually the process is carried out in a single-stage digester
containing anaerobic sludge which can be obtained from municipal sewage treatment plant. The
benefit of using this approach is that anaerobic co-digestion is generally more stable and can be
controlled more easily while the methane produced in the reactor can also be utilized for other
purpose. Depending on how well the engineer managed the system, biodegradability of the waste
can be as high as 95 to 98% with most of the energy generated from COD reduction were
consumed to produce methane gas. Methane yield coefficient which is the common term used to
measure efficiency of the whole treatment system can vary considerable but a general guideline
should be in the range of 250 300 of ml methane expected per gram of COD removed. Usually
anaerobic co-digestion of glycerine together with the biodiesel wastewater treatment follows a

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two-step process, whereby the first step which involves pre-treatment will require acidification
(using either phosphoric acid or sulphuric acid) in order to recover back the catalyst, then
followed by electrocoagulation before the wastewater is fed to the digester.

2.4.10 Fire protecting system

Figure 18: Fire protecting system

Biodiesel is a non-fossil fuel and non-petrodiesel produced from animal fats and/or plant oils
through a transesterification process. In the world of fire safety, it is classified as a combustible
liquid. Minimum temperature at which enough vapours are given off from a liquid surface to
form an ignitable mixture with air. A liquid that has a flash point below 100F. Flammable
liquids are further classified as Class IA, IB, and IC and are dependent on the flash point and
boiling point characteristics. A liquid that has a flash point at or above 100F. Combustible
liquids are further classified as Class II, III-A, and III-B and are dependent on flash point
characteristics. Fire is the rapid oxidation of combustible materials (including flammable and
combustible liquids) that releases light, heat and combustion products. This combustion reaction
is why we can use biodiesel as a fuel.

27

Biodiesel (B-100) is a Class III-B liquid with a flash point around 266F. Even though Biodiesel
itself is relatively safe for use and storage, careful consideration and safety precautions must be
taken in its manufacture. All electrical systems and equipment within storage, transfer, and
processing areas need to be reviewed to ensure that they are rated for hazardous areas. Many
fires have been started because the wrong type of electrical equipment was used.
All facilities are required to have basic fire and life safety measures:
i.
ii.
iii.

-Fire extinguishers
-Sprinklers or Suppression systems (for indoor operations)
-Clear and unobstructed egress from processing/storage areas

Following local, state and federal regulations, Biodiesel Plant UTHM has implemented:
i.

A high-capacity, water-deluge building sprinkler system designed to protect the entire


processing area.

ii.

A building ventilation system designed to draw fresh-air across the entire processing area.

iii.

A foam fire suppression system designed to protect the methanol truck unloading and
tank-farm area.

iv.

A hardwired safety-instrumented-system.

v.

Electrical and electronic devices suitable for use in hazardous areas.

Additional process protection measures include on-going operator training and a robust process
control system designed to assist operators in maintaining the safe and efficient production of
biodiesel.

28

3.0

General Plantwide Process Control of a Biodiesel Plant

3.1

Fixing plant-inlet flow rates

Figure 19 shows the first control structure tested. The flow rate of fresh acid is fixed and
determines the production rate. The flow rate controller on alcohol stream receives its set point
as the measured column-inlet acid flow multiplied by the desired alcohol / acid ratio.

Figure 19: Control structure of plant-inlet flow rates

3.2

Dynamics of control system

29

When an increase of the production rate is desired, the alcohol feed rate is firstly increased,
followed by the acid. When a decrease of the production rate is desired, the acid rate is the first
one to be reduced. The quality control structure is shown in Figure 20.

Figure 20: Control system ensuring that during transient period the acid is never in access

4.0

CONCLUSION

From the visit, the student gains knowledge in the Biodiesel processing field. Through this visit
also, the students are exposed to the process control system that implemented in the biodiesel
processing plant and get better understanding of process control theory that already learnt in
class. From the visit, the student can identify the process control system that implement in the
plant which is Cascade control system. Students also get the hand on experience of the real
situation in industry and control system.

30

References
Anderson, D., Masterson, D., Mcdonald, B., & Sullivan, L. (2003). Biodiesel Plant Design and
Engineering: Practical Experience, 110.
Bildea, Sorin, C., Kiss, & Alexandru, A. (2010). Control Strategies for a Biodiesel Process by
Reactive Absorption, 21, 12371242. http://doi.org/10.3303/CET1021207
National Productivity Council, India. Compressors. In: Technology Menu for Efficient Energy
Use, Motor Drive Systems (NPC). 1993
Sani, W. (2008). UTHM Biodiesel Pilot Plant Development. Manufacturing Engineering, (May),
21 23.
Sani, W., Hasnan, K., Yusof, M. Z., & Baba, I. (2013). Multi stage Transesterifications of High
FFA Feedstock towards a High Conversion of Biodiesel in A Batch Mode Production Plant,
1(5).
Suehara, K., Kawamoto, Y., Fujii, E., Kohda, J., Nakano, Y., & Yano, T. (2005). Biological
treatment of wastewater discharged from biodiesel fuel production plant with alkalicatalyzed transesterification. Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, 100(4), 43742.
US Department of Energy (US DOE), Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Improving
Compressed Air System Performance. DEO/GO-102003-1822. 2003.
www.oit.doe.gov/bestpractices/compressed_air