Robin Futcher is MD of Commercial Fuel Solutions and represents the PEIMF in a number of technical areas. He has unrivalled knowledge of AdBlue production and supply, and shares this fascinating insite into a global challenge.
The past few years have been challenging for both the transport and refuelling industries.
Most recently, the Ukraine conflict has caused repercussions throughout the world, leading to unprecedented cost increases, supply disruption and product shortages.
This all came at a time when the UK’s transport network was still suffering from driver shortages, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and, most recently, the impact of the red diesel reform. It’s not been easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Another topic that impacts the cost of operating HGV’s is one which also continues to make headlines, but might at first may not be one which is immediately associated to transport. I am referring to the increasing, unstable and rising cost of natural gas.
You may ask yourself, how does the cost of gas impact the cost of transport? Quite simply it’s due to your AdBlue consumption. Whilst many of you probably use AdBlue in your network, you may not be aware of how it is produced, and the processes involved before the product makes its way into your storage tanks.
For those of you without any chemistry experience, it might not be obvious. AdBlue itself is perceived as an environmentally friendly solution, and when produced in the way that our AdBlue is, it is exactly that. However, not all AdBlue is created equally, and these differences are explained in detail below.
Not all AdBlue is created equally!
Firstly, please remember that AdBlue is a high purity solution, and in order for it to remain effective, it must also be produced from high purity components and protected from contaminants, which would otherwise poison your vehicle’s catalyst.
To manufacture AdBlue, you need a few simple ingredients; Methane (Natural Gas), Nitrogen, Oxygen and high purity de-ionised water.
Natural Gas (Methane, CH4) is used as both a feedstock and as a catalyst for production. And this is the reason why the cost of AdBlue has been so heavily impacted by the recent rising gas prices.
Initially, the Methane feedstock undergoes a process which, for those of you familiar with Hydrogen production, is knows as Steam Methane Reforming (SMR). This is a process where the Methane gas itself is heated in a vessel to an extreme temperature, typically 700-1000°C. This causes the 4 Hydrogen atoms in each Methane molecule to separate from the single Carbon atom, which otherwise bonds them together.
During this process, separated Carbon is held for onward use later on in the process. This is an important part of the procedure, which differentiates the way our AdBlue is produced to others. There is very little waste in our process, other than that which is associated to the combustion of gas needed to generate heat to produce the product; whereas other sources of Hydrogen may allow this carbon by-product to either escape, or require for it to be stored and transported for onward processing elsewhere.
After gas reformation, the Hydrogen (H2) molecules then move swiftly on to the next stage of production, which is to make Ammonia (NH3). Ammonia is typically produced using a method called the Haber-Bosch Process, where pressure and heat are applied to bond Nitrogen (N2) molecules with the Hydrogen molecules to make Ammonia (NH3).
Then the Carbon atoms, which are a by-product of the SMR process, combine with Oxygen to formulate Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This Carbon dioxide is then recombined with the Ammonia to make Urea (CH4N2O), which is the base product for making AdBlue. This all takes place in the same factory, on the same production lines, minimising the risk of external contaminants and adventitious influences.
So what makes our AdBlue so different to our competitors’?
Firstly, as our AdBlue is made entirely from raw materials in a single factory, all the way down to the aqueous product, and is done so by using a chain of in-house processes, not only does this reduce the risk of impurities entering the system – but it is also the most energy efficient way to produce AdBlue.
Almost every single other brand of competing AdBlue available in the UK is made from blended Urea Prill, which has been produced either in the Baltic States or, in some instances, imported from the far east. Blending AdBlue from Urea Prill is both energy intensive and creates more waste product than the AdBlue produced in our European factories.
How is it more energy intensive?
Quite simply; before blending, the Urea Prill needs to be kept dry throughout both the storage and transport processes, as it rapidly depreciates in quality if it is not maintained in a dry, warm environment. Then once shipped in, usually in containers, the product has to be blended here in the UK using water, which also has to be treated as it is often too ‘hard’ containing high levels of calcium carbonate.
These additional, convoluted, processes differ greatly from our AdBlue, which is made at a single location and then shipped directly into the UK; straight to your tank from terminals at the dock.
With 15 million litres of storage at the terminals, no excess energy, additional processes, or further transport is needed for us to be able to deliver AdBlue directly into your bulk storage tank.
So in conclusion, not all AdBlue is created equally. Tested, validated and certified at every step throughout our production and supply network, our product is more energy efficient, requires less transport and is less susceptible to external influences, which is why we are able to guarantee our product quality and can ensure unrivalled availability throughout the UK.