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Troubleshooting checklist for industrial ethanol production


photo of a 2g ethanol bagasse factory

Ensuring smooth operations and complete fermentations in ethanol production requires an effective troubleshooting strategy. To guarantee a successful approach in ethanol plants, there are several aspects to consider: knowing the plant’s baseline, spotting critical changes, identifying the trouble source, having an effective problem-solving strategy, and knowing who to turn to for support in such happenings.

Knowing your production trends to start troubleshooting

For effective troubleshooting in ethanol production, it is crucial to establish a baseline for your ethanol process.  This involves documenting and analyzing key parameters such as temperature, tank levels, pressure, pH, fermentation time, and yield. By knowing your usual trends, you can compare current production data with historical records to identify changes. Regularly monitoring and recording the process parameters and trends over time allows you to spot any significant variations that can indicate potential problems.

In the case of trialing at industrial ethanol plants, it could be harder to track trends, as they are varying due to new products’ introductions. Having a familiarity with your baseline data is all the more important to correlate trials’ outcomes with abnormal production changes and rate the product impact versus the performance.

Identifying critical changes to initiate your ethanol production troubleshooting

During ethanol production, certain changes can indicate underlying issues. These alterations might suggest contamination, nutrition deficiencies, or other unwanted parameters variations. By promptly recognizing these critical changes, you can initiate troubleshooting measures before the problem escalates. Identifying these critical variations is done through the close monitoring of various parameters such as the yeast cell counts, glycerol levels, dry matter, bacteria presence, temperature variations, and so on.

For troubleshooting in ethanol production plants, the most impactful time to identify changes is the first 24 hours of fermentation. During this timeframe, corrective alterations may still be made to bring a positive impact on the rest of the process.

There are many variations that should raise the alarm in your troubleshooting:

  • A lower than usual yeast cell count,
  • Changes in the breakdown of sugars (DP4, DP3, DP2, and DP1) over time,
  • Increased residual sugars at the end of the process,
  • A higher than usual fermentation temperature,
  • A mildly or radically different fermentation pH,
  • The presence of unwanted coproducts,
  • And a lower ethanol concentration at drop.

Discerning the source of the problem

When troubleshooting your ethanol production, it is essential to identify the root problem causing the observed changes. It is important to start by thoroughly investigating potential sources that could be raw materials, equipment, operating procedures, or environmental factors. At this stage, it is key to consider the whole process, not only the fermentation part, as well as external factors.

  • Examining the quality and integrity of inputs: raw materials, yeast, enzymes, etc.
  • Checking the condition and performance of all equipment: fermenters, distillation columns, etc.
  • The human factor should not be under-estimated: Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) should be reviewed to ensure they are followed correctly
  • Environmental conditions and their impact should also be analyzed: temperature, humidity, etc.

By systematically identifying the source of the problem, you will be able to address it effectively.

Solving the problem

When it comes to troubleshooting in ethanol production, the first  step to solving the problem is always to formulate a hypothesis based on both the investigation and available data. Test this hypothesis through controlled experiments and simulations to verify its validity. Once the cause of the issue has been confirmed, the action plan outlining the steps needed to resolve the problem can be implemented. An efficient action plan is comprised of the necessary corrective measures to be implemented, documentation of the changes made, and a close monitoring of their effects on the process.

Problem-solving protocols will have the plant back on its usual, or improved, production KPIsyield, productivity, and ethanol titer. It is key to regularly monitor process results to assess the effectiveness of the solutions implemented.

It is important to update your troubleshooting strategies based on the lessons learned from each troubleshooting experience. Moreover, keeping track of the problem-solving protocols supports your proactiveness towards predictable events, like higher temperatures in the summer.

Having a reliable partner for ethanol production troubleshooting

Partnering with a reliable technical expert can significantly enhance troubleshooting efforts in industrial ethanol production. A reliable partner, experienced in ethanol production, can offer a fresh perspective, and an in-depth knowledge of industry best practices. While you are experts of your plant, process, and production running, having an extra set of eyes with extensive experience in the industry can make the difference. Relying on a partner can also open access to advanced infrastructures and technologies for testing.

Troubleshooting in industrial ethanol production requires a systematic and detail-oriented approach. By knowing your production baseline, identifying critical changes, determining the root cause of problems, and implementing effective solutions, you can minimize impacts and maintain product quality. By following a comprehensive troubleshooting checklist and continuously improving your processes, you can optimize industrial ethanol production and achieve sustainable success.

Moreover, partnering with a reliable technical expert adds valuable support and expertise to your troubleshooting efforts. Through our technical support offer, we are available to assist you in your troubleshooting and production optimization. Coupling your process knowledge to our teams’ expertise on microorganisms and fermentation, we can partner for your problem-solving with access to application tests and microbiology audits.