IC Insight: e-fuel production up close

Insights into plant operation

OPERATIONS – this is the department at INERATEC that takes care of the commissioning, operation and maintenance of the plants. Today, Daniel Herborn, our expert in the plant operation, gives us an insight into his day-to-day work –


Daniel, you have been with us since 2018, what has your career at INERATEC been like?

I started my Master’s thesis here in April 2018, finished in October and have been a permanent employee ever since. In my first year, I worked in the Technical Optimisation department and shortly afterwards I switched to Operations.

What does your everyday work as a company expert look like?

On the one hand, I look after the plant operation together with the team. On the other hand, I also do a lot of interface work. That means recording the new findings from each plant operation and also exchanging this information with the engineering department. I discuss our experiences from the operation with the colleagues from this department. Together we can work out the potential for improvement in future plants. Due to the strong increase in personnel in our department, the documentation of the operating processes for quality assurance is also particularly important.

How does it feel to produce the climate-friendly e-fuels yourself and hold them in your hand after getting the plant up and running?

That’s definitely a great feeling! I mean, everyone was expecting the answer now. Everyone in the company puts so much work into the common goal of a more sustainable future every day. You also get to see the planning and time involved behind each plant. Once it’s up and running reliably, it’s a great feeling of achievement. You simply have a product in your hands that is ready to be used. Our plants our very complex. But if you can show a bottle with e-fuel made from CO2 and renewable hydrogen, like “look here, this is what comes out at the end”, it enables a completely different understanding of the impact.

How does it work, from installation, to commissioning, to regular operation?

The installation of a plant by the production department is accompanied by us at the destination and taken over for commissioning. Commissioning is by far the most exciting step: here, all trades, building blocks and responsible persons must work together perfectly so that the plant can go into regular operation.

How big should the team be? Can the systems also be controlled remotely?

Currently, we need a standing operations team at day and night for larger plants, to look after the plants or is on call. However, the teams do not have to be particularly large. Only when you have to go out for a service or an operation larger teams become relevant. When the pandemic started in early 2020, we were already able to control one of our plants in Finland completely remotely, which we are very proud of. The development of full automated plants is currently a top priority. This will soon reduce the need for operational staff, even at the larger plants.

What do you personally enjoy most about your work?

Digging into complicated issues and then looking at what didn’t go so well and what can be done better. In short, the process of problem solving: something is not working, why is it not working, what does the data show us and how can it work better. These are challenges that come with the job, but that’s also what I enjoy the most. The most important thing is to have a very good understanding of the plant processes and, on site, you should of course be skilled in handicraft.

Was there a project that you found particularly exciting?

For me it was FlexChx, where we operated one of our power-to-liquid plants in Finland. That was the first major project for me and the first longer stay abroad, during which I was able to take on many tasks independently. Then as today, I think it was great that we had the chance to fly to Finland and produce synthetic fuel there as part of an EU research project with the biobased synthesis gas of our partners. The project partners in Finland were also in a good mood, it was really fun. The project has now been successfully completed.

What is it like to be directly on site, to travel a lot and to install the equipment at their locations? Do you look forward to going back to the office after travelling for a long time?

The variety that working at different locations offers is something special. At the same time, field assignments bring a high workload, especially since you are always in a new environment. In such situations, I am very happy about the good interaction and spirits within the team.

Has this IC-Insight piqued your interest? Our Operations team is looking for reinforcement. You can find all vacancies here: your career at INERATEC.

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