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Optimising Energy-Efficient Catalysts in Germany’s “Industrial Chemical Park”

By Holger Guenschel on Apr 5, 2020

I’m the plant manager and managing director of Shell Catalysts & Technologies in Leuna, Germany. I began my career in catalysts in 1974 and love the work that I get to do. Our plant is located about 25 kilometers southwest of Leipzig, in an area known as the “Industrial Chemical Park”. We’ve been a part of Shell since 1998, but we’ve existed as a commercial catalyst company since 1921. We’ve been in operation for almost 100 years.

Reducing Environmental Impact with DeNOx Catalysts

The catalyst business is quite exciting and challenging on a daily basis. I manage around 130 people who keep the plant running and who develop and explore new catalyst solutions. We work with our traditional performance products for chemical applications, such as Fischer-Tropsch catalysts for Shell’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) business.

We also work to develop new catalyst solutions. In our company, Environmental Catalytic Systems (ECS) has a long history in catalytic development — for instance, with DeNOx catalysts. The market is signaling a need for new technologies with environmental applications like DeNOx.

Currently, Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ DeNOx catalysts are used around the world to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) from combustion sources and chemical processes. The solution is unique in the market because of its ability to provide high NOx reduction across broad conditions.

At the Leuna Chemical plant, our skilled and engaged team is developing a new type of DeNOx catalyst with advantages for customers. While this new type of DeNOx catalyst is still under development, I see the increased adoption of DeNOx catalyst technology as an example of how customers are looking to transform and optimise their catalytic processes in the energy transition.

Shell Catalysts & Technologies offers a full range of catalyst solutions, including technical services, for our customers in various stages of refinery maturity. I see this as the most important benefit that we can offer to customers and to the industry. We provide customers with solutions that are delivered by an engaged and skilled workforce, which enables us to work toward more and cleaner energy via high-performing catalysts and technologies.

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Improving Processes with Robotics and Digitisation

In my four-decade career in catalysts, I’ve seen significant developments in the industry as well as internal transformations to our work methodologies. At the Leuna Chemical plant, we’ve employed continuous development (CD) and continuous integration (CI) to improve our catalyst solutions. CD and CI are crucial parts of improving our daily work that contributes to the success of the company. They are also what keeps my job exciting.

In the coming decades, I’m sure that digitisation and automatisation will change our way of working more than they have in the years prior. These technologies could help us to improve our solutions, enable customers to reduce their carbon footprint, and ultimately aid in the energy transition.

On top of automatisation, I expect to see accelerated usage of new tools, solutions, and programs that will aid us in our processes and technology development, while also prioritising safety.

For example, we are currently using a technology where robots aid our workers in the manufacturing process. We use two robots in our pilot and demo plants. They make processes consistent and help our workers to avoid manual handling and contact with potentially hazardous materials.

While I expect that automisation will continue to aid in our plant’s operations, new licensed technologies alone won’t create a safer organisation. Every day, we face new challenges in our ambition to be a “Safety-Quality-Delivery” organisation. Safety-Quality-Delivery, in that order, is a challenge for everybody to remember and adopt daily.

So it is crucial for us to recognise our team members’ dilemmas and to offer support. When we are successful, then everyone is engaged to stop work or intervene if a situation is unsafe. Risks or hazards can be identified, reported, mitigated, and removed. Safety truly is the top priority for our organization.

Find Out How to: Enhance Safety with Reactor Internals

Leading the Energy Transition

As I’m getting ready to retire at the end of the year, I believe that Europe will continue to be one of the world’s leaders in energy transformation. There are more advanced technologies being developed and available in the market, legislation continues to issue stringent regulations, and the people are demanding changes which will require cleaner energy solutions.

Shell Catalysts & Technologies is uniquely positioned to help our customers thrive through the energy transition and I look forward to playing a role in this transition.

Find Out How to: Meet Regulations with the Use of Environmental Catalysts