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Bringing automated, real-time process control into starch-processing industries

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OptiSpec (Bringing automated, real-time process control into starch-processing industries)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-04-30

The production of beer and bioethanol goes through a first stage, in which the starch (previously extracted from the grain) is broken down into sugars by the action of enzymes. In a second stage, the sugars are fermented into ethanol in the presence of yeast. Nowadays there are no analytical tools available at industrial facilities providing detailed and real-time information on the concentration of sugars and other intermediates throughout the production process. In consequence, it is not possible yet to monitor and optimise in real time beer and bioethanol production, what determines the overall outcome of these industries. At Specshell we have seized this opportunity and developed OptiSpec, the first process control system providing a detailed insight on compositional data in real time throughout the beer and bioethanol production process. Our uniqueness relies on the adaptation of the mid-IR spectroscopy to the industrial setting, and its combination with our proprietary chemometrics libraries, converting in real-time the IR-absorption spectra data into parameters of interest for plant operators.
This first period of the Optispec project was very much focused on setting things in motion. Parts and equipment had to be acquired, systems designed, and talent hired and onboarded. The common focus for the work done was getting a first iteration prototype ready for industrial trials in the spring of 2020. Various upgrades and improvements to the hardware was tested as individual components, made possible due to the installations of the original Specshell product already installed at some breweries. These experiments yielded good feedback on the usefulness of various ideas for the upgrade of the analyzer. Although work is still to be done in this area.
OptiSpec will be introduced to breweries, where the first version of our solution has been already successfully tested. It will enable brewers to increase their productivity by 5-15% annually and reduce the carbon footprint of the brewing process. OptiSpec will also benefit bioethanol producers, who are currently struggling with very difficult market conditions. OptiSpec represents a breakthrough for this sector as it has the potential to increase the efficiency of their production process and increasing the yield by 1-2%, positioning this sector as crucial in helping the EU to achieve its transport decarbonisation objectives. OptiSpec will positively impact Specshell: by 2025, five years after market uptake, we expect to have 770 OptiSpec units installed worldwide. That year we will surpass the €65 million revenues, have 4 offices worldwide and employ up to 150 people.