Synfuels Plant’s DEF-inite production advantages bring in millions

Anna Iverson, Dakota Gas process operations field technician.

This summer, Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant broke all-time production and sales records for diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). A record was set in July, then was shattered in August when the plant produced nearly three times as much DEF as a normal month. 

The increased production came at a time when DEF prices soared. As the market for DEF increased, the Synfuels Plant shifted its normal production to making less granular urea so additional DEF could be produced.

“This is a clear advantage the Synfuels Plant has – as commodity prices change, so can its product slate,” says Daniel Schaaf Gallagher, Basin Electric manager of commodity sales and trading.

According to Schaaf Gallagher, there are a lot of moving parts that need to go smoothly for a transition like this to be successful.  “Normally, we have orders come in, we prepare them, fill the rail cars that are on site, and fill trucks when they come in. These last few months, we’ve been managing about 150 extra rail cars, increased truck traffic, working to maintain storage levels, and ensuring all orders are filled and shipped on time,” he says.  

The recent addition of a hydraulic DEF loading arm proved very successful in helping this transition go smoothly. According to Sara Dow, Dakota Gas section engineer-fertilizer, the previous loading arm was a hose style arm that required operators to manually deploy and position it. “This was difficult and cumbersome so we began looking into alternative options which would eliminate manual maneuvering of the arm,” Dow says. After working with several vendors, a design that allowed the operators to operate the arm using a remote control from the safety of the platform was chosen, and the new arm was installed in May. After several months of operation, Dow says there has been positive feedback from the operators. “Once we prove out the cold weather operation of the new arm, we plan on ordering a second one to replace the remaining manual arm,” she says.

Sara Dow, Dakota Gas section engineer-fertilizer.

The volume of rail cars that were needed to ship out the additional DEF that was produced was another aspect that needed to be managed in order for the transition to be successful. The load-out area has three bays – two for urea and one for DEF. According to Anna Iverson, process operations field technician, trucks are loaded during the day and the night shift loads railcars. “Normally, we load three or four cars per night, and that’s not even every night,” she says, “but this summer, we loaded eight, and sometimes nine cars every night, working to get them all loaded by shift change at 6 a.m. The tracks only hold eight cars so there were times when we had to jockey things around to get them all loaded, which isn’t an easy task when you think of how big and heavy railcars are. Then you add in a granular urea unit train (which is 85 cars) here and there and it ends up being a lot of moving parts.” Because one of the DEF loading arms is still manual, Iverson says moving it around can get pretty physical, but the team managed to get it all done with no major problems.

“When we first built the urea plant, I would have said there was no way we could have produced and shipped as much DEF as we have the last few months,” says Trinity Turnbow, Synfuels Plant assistant plant manager and process operations manager. “The job process operations field technicians have done loading and moving product without any big hiccups has been outstanding, and the collaboration between all the groups that are involved has been really good. This has gone better than I ever could have imagined. It’s helping our customers get the products they need and it’s helping Dakota Gas’ bottom line.”

The shift to producing an increased amount of DEF has had a significant financial impact for Dakota Gas with the plant seeing revenue millions of dollars over budget.

Read more in “DEF-inite advantages: Great Plains Synfuels Plants’ ability to shift production has meant millions for Dakota Gas in the fall issue of Basin Today.

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