Duplex pumps for ultramodern corn ethanol plant

The FS – Bioenergia plant in Brazil.
The FS – Bioenergia plant in Brazil.

The world’s most modern and efficient corn ethanol plant is located in Brazil. The complex and corrosive liquids handled in the plant require pumps constructed in duplex stainless steel.

Text & images by Sulzer

FS – Fueling Sustainability, located near Lucas do Rio Verde, Mato Grosso, is the first corn-only ethanol plant in Brazil. The phase 1 production started in 2017 with an initial capacity of 250 million litres per year. The facility utilizes the latest process technologies from ICM, an innovative company headquartered in Colwich, KS, USA that has become a world leader in biorefining technologies and processes. In addition to bioethanol, some high-value coproducts, such as corn oil and high-protein and high-fibre dried distiller’s grains, are produced. The plant also generates electricity from the biomass, partly for internal use and the surplus for sale.
FS – Fueling Sustainability is recognized as the world’s most modern and efficient corn ethanol plant. The production facility is equipped with pumping equipment from Sulzer and value-added, patented technologies from ICM such as Selective Milling Technology™ (SMT™), Fiber Separation Technology™ (FST™), and Base Tricanter System™ (BTS™).

The challenge

Each step of ethanol production from corn involves pumps with technically demanding applications. The liquids can be complex, have high solids contents, and may be viscous, corrosive, hot, erosive, or explosive. The right pump materials and optimal sealing systems must be carefully selected to ensure reliable and long-lasting operation. Furthermore, all pumps must be highly efficient, both in terms of energy and water savings, so that the complete plant is operating to its full potential.
In close cooperation with the customer, AHLSTAR and SNS pumps were chosen for all applications – from initial mash slurry transfer to final ethanol truck loading. In total, more than 80 single-stage pumps were installed for phase 1. The AHLSTAR pumps in duplex material handle liquids containing solids and other particles, while the SNS pumps run on clean liquids. Most of the pumps are equipped with double mechanical seals. The choice of duplex stainless steel as the material of manufacture was influenced by the company’s desire to standardize the pumps considering:

  • Better prices offered (aggressive supply chain strategy),
  • Optimize stock of spare parts,
  • Superior metallurgy (higher lifetime).
One of the AHLSTAR pumping units in place.
One of the AHLSTAR pumping units in place.

Customer benefit

Sulzer has thorough experience in pumping solutions for corn-based ethanol plants worldwide. Of the over 200 plants in operation in the United States alone, about 70% are equipped with Sulzer pumps.
After careful commissioning and start-up, all pumps are now working perfectly. For the toughest applications, the AHLSTAR pumps with adjustable side plates provide high performance continuously. For clean liquids, the new SNS pumps have the highest efficiencies on the market – they exceed the benchmark efficiency index MEI 0.7. Both AHLSTAR and SNS pumps have open impellers with balancing holes that optimize the shaft seal function. For pumps with double mechanical seals, it was decided after a few months of operation to switch from API piping plan 54 (external pressurized source) to API piping plan 53 (external pressurized reservoir). This change helped to further reduce the water consumption and operational costs.
In 2018, a duplicate of the existing plant was built (phase 2). This doubled the production capacity of the Lucas do Rio Verde site. Extremely satisfied with the collaboration, FS – Fueling Sustainability ordered new similar Sulzer pumps for this extension. The site was further expanded in 2019 (phase 3) with additional Sulzer equipment installed. Today, in total more than 300 AHLSTAR and SNS pumps are running smoothly in the plants.
“Top-efficiency. Not only for pumps, but also for service provided throughout the project.” Júlio César Santana, Project Manager, FS – Fueling Sustainability

A duplex SNS3-80 pumping unit for anhydrous ethanol.
A duplex SNS3-80 pumping unit for anhydrous ethanol.

Product data

The corn ethanol site has a total of 307 Sulzer single-stage process pumps in duplex or stainless steel 316 materials. Most AHLSTAR pumps with double seal are equipped with the simple and reliable Sulzer thermosiphon SP8 seal pot system.
The AHLSTAR and SNS pump ranges have a wide choice of wet end sizes to cover exactly the required flows (2 to 1’230 m³/h) and heads (4 to 105 m). This allows the pumps to always run at duty points close to the best efficiency points, which means direct and maximized savings in energy costs.

About Sulzer

Sulzer is specialized in energy-efficient pumping, agitation, mixing, separation, purification, crystallization, and polymerization technologies for fluids of all types. Its solutions enable carbon emission reductions, the development of polymers from biological sources, the recycling of plastic waste and textiles, and efficient power storage. Sulzer has been headquartered in Winterthur, Switzerland, since 1834.

About this Tech Article

This tech article appeared in Stainless Steel World, January/February 2024 magazine. To read many more articles like these on an (almost) monthly basis, subscribe to our magazine (available in print and digital format) – SUBSCRIPTIONS TO OUR DIGITAL VERSION ARE NOW FREE.

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