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Advant DCS migration to System 800xA at alginate production facility, Norway

DCS upgrade helps increase capacity and improve quality of processing wet seaweed to dry powder in only 24 hours

Using ABB’s control system technologies for an advanced, 24 hour chemical process, FMC Biopolymer converts seaweed to alginate for use in thousands of products.

Harvesting kelp from the sea to produce alginate

If you are going swimming or fishing along the coast in summer you may encounter forests of giant kelp. What you may not know is that this brown algae can be processed to form a natural ingredient in food, medicine and paint.

“For many, alginate is a well-kept secret,” says Per Magne Olsen, Technology Manager at FMC Biopolymer. “Visitors at our factory are surprised by how versatile an apparently simple algae can be. New applications are discovered regularly, as the full potential for giant kelp has not been realised yet. The demand for alginate is significant and growing,” he says.

For 60 years, FMC Biopolymer has harvested kelp from the sea to produce alginate. The factory is located outside Haugesund, at the heart of the oil and gas rich west coast of Norway. It combines traditional process technologies with smart solutions developed and optimized through the years. The entire 24 hour process is monitored closely by experienced operators and advanced process equipment.

“In our processes, parameters such as temperature, mixture and timing are crucial to obtain alginate of the quality our customers demand,” says Olsen. “This is why we are relying on skilled operators and engineers - and of course reliable process equipment. We cannot afford to deliver the wrong quality or to have unplanned production shutdowns.”

Main facts

Industry Food & Beverage 
Customer FMC Biopolymer alginate producer
Country Norway
Solutions

Advant DCS evolution to System 800xA
Control systems connectivity & modernization


Per Magne Olsen, Technology Manager at FMC Biopolymer
"In our processes, parameters such as temperature, mixture and timing are crucial to obtain alginate of the quality our customers demand. We cannot afford to deliver the wrong quality or to have unplanned production shutdowns"

Control system upgrade

ABB has supplied process automation, motors and drives to FMC Biopolymer for more than 20 years. To further develop the process control system capabilities, the company has chosen to upgrade their main automation system from ABB's Advant to ABB's award winning Extended Automation System 800xA.

The backbone of the distributed control system (DCS) in System 800xA are the programmable logic controllers (PLC), which are basically special purpose computers for the automation of manufacturing processes. The controllers are designed to receive and distribute multiple signals from the process to the main control system. The data from the process is presented in an easily accessible way, according to the specifications of the customer, on screens in their control room.

FMC Biopolymer uses ABB's AC410 and AC450 controllers to receive signals from ABB's S800 Input/Output (I/O) units, which recently replaced the S400 generation units. The I/O units receive signals from process instruments, providing important information such as temperature, flow and pressure.

“One might say that FMC Biopolymer is a demanding customer. They know what they want,” says key account manager, Tor Kvello from ABB.

“One of the advantages with System 800xA is its flexibility and scalability when it comes to accommodating future changes to the production facilities. It can also integrate third-party systems easily and combine the plant's business application software with process information.”



“When investing in process technologies such as control systems, the driving force is to increase capacity and improve quality,” explains Per Magne Olsen. “An efficient process is essential to help us stay competitive. Customers and governments have stringent requirements for how we manufacture the product and for the documentation of the process. We need systems that can ensure the customers get exactly what they ordered.”

ABB's key account manager Tor Kvello (left) and FMC Biopolymer's engineer Magne Leirvåg during a tour of the production process.

MC Biopolymer's engineer Kjetil Skjold inspecting ABB's Input/Output units, which receive signals from instruments in the process and distribute them to the control system.

Magical properties

If you have ever touched kelp you know that it is smooth, tough and durable. These are just some of the features you are looking for when making alginate from seaweed. On top of that, the final product can stand heat as well as cold and dissolves easily in hot or cold water. It can be used for thickening (sauces), stabilizing (ice cream), coating (cured meat), and gelling (jam).

“The properties of kelp are similar to cellulose from wood or starch from potatoes, both are natural biopolymers. When processing kelp to alginate, we are basically trying to recreate and reuse the good features of algae,” says Per Magne Olsen. “And using the word ‘magic’ is no exaggeration when talking about alginate. In medicine one can even use it to ‘control’ the speed in which a pill dissolves in the body - to maximize the benefits to a patient.

Kelp is a kind of seaweed that grows naturally in huge sea forests around the world. On the Norwegian coast there is an estimated 50 million metric tons of giant kelp, usually in water no deeper than 30 meters. The harvesting of kelp is regulated to ensure sustainability and FMC Biopolymer harvests about 150,000 metric tons of it each year using specialist trawlers.
Using the word ‘magic’ is no exaggeration when talking about alginate properties. New applications are discovered regularly, as the full potential for giant kelp has not been realised yet.

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