DEF production increases to meet strong demand

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A truck is loaded with diesel exhaust fluid at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant. 

With five major urea and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) production facilities taking planned and unplanned maintenance turnarounds this past spring and throughout the summer, DEF prices and demand have soared, and the Synfuels Plant has adjusted production to capitalize on the market changes.

According to Zach Jacobson, Dakota Gas marketing account manager, the facilities are taking these outages at the same time mostly due to the pandemic. “We saw facilities not wanting to take maintenance outages last year during COVID-19 because maintenance contracts were very tough to get and were expensive,” Jacobson said.

As the market for DEF increased in early July, Jacobson said production at the Synfuels Plant was shifted to making less granular urea so that additional DEF could be produced. The Synfuels Plant can make about 200 gallons per minute of DEF at maximum rates.

That is a clear advantage the Synfuels Plant has, as commodity prices change, so can its product slate.

Jacobson said July will set a record for DEF production and sales, and he expects the strong demand to continue through Labor Day. “August is likely to set even higher records, and we likely will see above-average demand for DEF through the end of the year,” he said.

Product movement has been aggressive, with the night shift focusing on loading DEF railcars, as railcar demand significantly increases. “We’ve been shipping literally all over the country, from the West Coast, throughout the Midwest, and to the Gulf Coast,” Jacobson said. “The vast majority of the DEF volume is moving by rail, but we are still shipping trucks, as well.”

Jacobson said DEF produced at the Synfuels Plant is being used at gas stations and travel centers, for off-road equipment like construction, farming, and mining, and on-road like semi-trucks, large trucks, and passenger vehicles.

DEF is urea liquor, which is required by law for modern diesel engines for emissions control. It is injected into the exhaust stream to react with harmful greenhouse gases. DEF is a non-hazardous solution comprised of 32.5% urea and 67.5% de-ionized water. It has a slight smell of ammonia, similar to some home cleaning agents. DEF is used in by selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to remove harmful NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions from diesel engines.

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