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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - OptiSpec (Bringing automated, real-time process control into starch-processing industries)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-03-31

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. The importance of the project is highlighted in what we seeked to achieve; optimizing the process of the breweries and the bioethanol produces by ensuring optimal and efficient use of raw material. ,
The overall objectives and their conclusion is written in PartB, Objectives (1.1)
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. Period 2 primarily revolved around the industrial trials taking place throughout the months and ensuring that the analyzer and procedures around its manufacturing were streamlined and ready for large scale production. The work with the trials not only ensured thorough test of the hardware and software, but also adequate response to the concepts developed for the sales approach, to be utilized once sales of the analyzer technology starts. In the end the learnings form the trials were included in the final, market ready, design. The interaction with the host sites played an important factor in this regard, in order to fully understand the needs and expectations from the industry.
The work with the data model developments, i.e. the chemometrics also continued throughout the period. This was very much needed and beneficial to support the trials and the host sites feedback and comments to the accuracy of the measurements. A big effort went into proving that the inline measurements were indeed correct.
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.

In the brewing industry the value proposition may be somewhat improved to what it was before the project was initiated. This is due to the fact that we chose to generate algorithms and models to accurately predict the performance of the fermentation, rather than develop an instrument for the brewing fermenters. The reasoning being that the current technology is too expensive for equipping all fermenters in a brewery.
Our value propositions are calculated based on a brewery producing 2mio hL of beer annually. This is a size we generally use, as it is a good average for the size of industrial breweries we generally target.
Summing the value propositions for an “average” industrial brewery, this equates to a potential annual increase in EBIDA/reduction in cost of €2.35 mio. Extrapolating this number to the largest breweries in the world the annual numbers is €14.1 mio. This of course does not account for the consistency benefit of the fermentation that the developed algorithms can result in, as that is a near impossible number to get out of the breweries.

Looking at the bioethanol industry our industrial trials sites were respectively 2 times and 3 times smaller than an average sized bioethanol plant. The value propositions calculated with the first site (3 times smaller than average) was that the enzyme savings case could generate a saving of around € 50.000 /year. The infection intervention/mitigation case could potentially ensure a saving of around € 500.000 / year. Further, achieving a more consistent process, with a higher degree of “perfect” batches would also add to increase in EBIDA. All in all, it was estimated that around € 800.000 could be added to the EBIDA per year for this trial site, should they choose to equip all their fermenters with the new technology.