Exploring atoms & molecules at Evonik's Oxeno site





Evonik is a global market leader in specialty chemicals. As a visitor, you can’t help but be struck by how unfamiliar all of this is, and wonder - what chemicals are flowing through these pipes? What’s the process? If you’re not familiar with chemistry, it’s all quite abstract.

We visit Evonik’s Oxeno site in Antwerp, Belgium. After passing through security, we drive onto their site and pass by metres of pipelines, large distillation columns and supply tanks. Vapour and steam hisses its way out of valves. Here, different refinery C4 fractions are processed. These raw materials are brought in either through pipelines or ships and processed into a final product. Here they work with hydrocarbons - organic compounds made up only of hydrogen and carbon. Chemicals are split and combined in reactors. In distillation columns, the difference in chemicals’ boiling point is used to cause them to separate. Chemicals are fed through pipelines into the distillation columns and heated.

Manufacturing Butadiene and MTBE

Evanescent evaporating chemicals rise inside the column, which is where they are separated from the product at the bottom of the distillation column. Generally when it comes to hydrocarbons, the longer the carbon chain, the heavier the molecules and the higher the boiling point. By repeating this process in a subsequent column, more chemicals can be separated, and by adding different chemicals new chemical bonds are created, giving rise to new products. The products manufactured here include Butadiene and MTBE. Butadiene is used in synthetic rubber, mainly for the tyre industry, and has various uses in plastics and elastomers, which are plastics with a high elasticity such as synthetic rubber or silicones.

MTBE gives rise to a higher octane number and improved fuel combustion in petrol engines; this means MTBE helps to improve air quality. In the control room, we see screens displaying vast quantities of data across five desks. The process operators are trained in chemistry and must have experience as external process operators, before being able to work internally in the control room. As an external process operator, you become familiar with the terrain and the process. It’s also important for you to know where everything is, and what the distances are. Internal operators guide, control and manage the production process. Various alarm lists are shown on the screens, in red or yellow; these have to be checked and adjusted to ensure the production process runs smoothly. External operators have to be contacted as they carry out checks on the ground and ensure that the process runs smoothly. Temperature, pressure and flows are constantly being monitored. A flow is the quantity transported per hour, measured in tons or kilos.

Human Centric Lighting

The control room was recently renovated. A Human Centric Lighting solution was installed to provide the best possible work environment. Throughout the day, the light’s colour temperature changes to give the internal operators a good rhythm and to keep them alert at the right times. Rik Luyens, Sales Engineer at ATS Antwerpen and Dirk van Cauteren from Framaz, Glamox’s Belgian distributor for land-based projects, suggested the solution to Evonik. The company operates 24/7, with the staff rotating between 3 shifts. The C90 light fittings are calibrated in a three-day cycle across 24 hours, with the colour temperature creating the atmosphere. Users can adjust light intensity independently, but not colour temperature. The cycle will continue to be refined based on user feedback; the question is whether that will be necessary. Peter Neefs from Evonik says that users have responded positively to the light installations.

DALI monitoring

Jose Cordova Alvear, from Framaz, coordinated the scheduling and initial set-up of the lighting installation. The building’s automatic light fitting controls and E80 emergency lighting monitoring are managed through DALI. This allows issues to be read immediately and a quick, appropriate assessment of whether steps have to be taken to ensure safe emergency exits will be available in case of emergency can me made.

After our visit, the labyrinth of pipelines, columns and tanks makes sense. On this production site, safety is - rightly - a top priority. Ongoing checks on the production process means good lighting is essential, so employees can carry out their duties as well as possible, We hope the staff enjoy using this lighting installation.


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Marek Paranič