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Customer story

Bio-refinery Alco Energy: "The new tank ensures a more reliable production process"

Gpi supplies a 75 m3 stainless steel urea tank

Alco Energy brews beer from corn to produce bioethanol. The bioethanol is blended with petrol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per liter of petrol. Facing four days off over the holidays, there was a potential shortage of storage capacity for urea, a nutrient in the fermentation process. To prevent this, Alco applied for a 75m3 stainless steel storage tank.

Site manager Robine Koning oversees Alco’s largest facility, situated in Rotterdam’s Europoort. She describes the bioethanol production process: “We start with dried corn kernels sourced from Europe, which we use to brew beer. After grinding the corn, we add water, boil it, and introduce enzymes and yeast, leading to the conversion of sugars into alcohol and CO2. Our process yields beer with 16% alcohol content. To produce bioethanol, we distill the alcohol from the beer. The CO2 emitted during fermentation is captured, washed, and transported directly to the greenhouses in the Westland area via an underground pipeline. After extracting water, we dry the remaining corn pulp, resulting in DDGS, a premium protein-rich animal feed. It’s a cycle that adds significant value.”

The reason for the project

Project leader Erik Matser from Alco was involved in the entire project. He explains the reason for requesting the new stainless steel tank: “As we’re increasing our production, it became a bigger challenge to store enough urea with the two available tanks. In our production planning, we identified the biggest issue around Christmas. Last year, Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell exactly after the weekend, meaning there would be no urea delivery for four consecutive days. This would halt the process. You can compare such a process to a row of dominoes. If one part gets stuck, it affects the rest of the production process. That’s why we explored the possibility of installing an additional tank before the end of December.”

"Without the new tank, the production process would be disrupted"

Projectleider Erik Matser van Alco

Choosing Gpi

“Gpi was commissioned by Alco Energy to design, construct, deliver, and install a 75m3 stainless steel tank for storing a urea solution. Erik explains the motivation for choosing Gpi: “When requesting a tank, we approach several parties. Gpi has completed several projects and is a preferred supplier for such requests. In 2018, Gpi delivered two identical urea tanks and a magnesium sulfate tank. This allowed for swift coordination and required minimal design adjustments. Given the urgency to have the tank before the holidays, delivery time was particularly crucial. Gpi was able to meet this requirement, and communication proceeded very smoothly.'”

"Gpi is a trusted in-house supplier for such requests. Gpi was able to deliver quickly, and communication proceeded smoothly"

The new tank was installed next to the previously delivered urea tanks and magnesium sulfate tank.

The assignment

“The tank is designed according to the European EN 13445 standard. It stands nearly 14 meters tall and is constructed from type 304(L) stainless steel. For heating, the tank was equipped with electrical tracing and insulation. Erik discusses the requirements: ‘It needed to be a stainless steel tank with a capacity of 75m3 that could be installed at the pre-prepared location. Therefore, the tank’s dimensions had to be identical to the existing tanks, as a foundation had already been laid. In comparison to the previous design, we requested a modification to the legs, increasing their thickness from 3mm to 4mm. This adjustment was promptly addressed and implemented.”


Erik is enthusiastic about the progress of the project: “Communication with the engineers went smoothly. There were designated points of contact, and the process proceeded in an organized manner. My colleague visited the Lopik production site for acceptance after production, and everything was well taken care of there as well, with documentation neatly organized. There were a few minor issues with the tank’s appearance, which were promptly addressed, and the tank arrived in perfect condition after transport.”

"The technicians knew what was expected, were self-reliant, and had the necessary tools and safety equipment with them as required"

“Gpi also handled the installation. The Gpi technicians knew what was expected, were self-reliant, and came equipped with the necessary tools and safety gear required for a plant like this, so the process went very smoothly. Because we slightly raised the foundation, the ladder didn’t fit perfectly, but that issue was resolved within a week. A creative solution was quickly devised for that.”

The outcome and future outlook

The tanks were delivered and installed at Alco in Rotterdam at the end of November. Erik reflects on the project with satisfaction: “The request was finalized in June, and by the end of November, the tank was delivered, allowing ample time for installation. We connected the piping and were operational before Christmas. We should have more projects that proceed as smoothly”

"We should have more projects that proceed as smoothly"

Robine is also pleased with the arrival of the new tank: “As our production continues to grow, the addition of the new urea tank will make our production process more reliable.” The company is not resting on its laurels. In recent years, Erik and the project team have been addressing bottlenecks in the factory, including this project. Moving forward, Alco is focusing on further energy conservation efforts. By 2030, the bio-refinery aims to operate entirely climate-neutral.