There is still a slight smell of fish at Port Esbjerg
Even though it is many years ago that Esbjerg was a major fishing port, there is still a slight smell of fish at the harbour. Not from the living kind, but from fish meal and fish oil. The reason is that it is going well with the purification, import and export of both products. TripleNine Polar Omega and ED&F Man both envisage a bright future.
Two rust-red silos tower against the sky at Port Esbjerg. The rain has created a dark pattern in the paint, making the two silos resemble a work of art against the grey sky.
‟Things are looking good,” says Bent Krejlgaard, Terminal Manager with ED&F Man, looking at one of the silos with a slight smile on his lip.
However, he was not referring to the semblance of an artwork. He was referring to the fact that the two silos are two out of a total of eight silos which ED&F Man is currently building for the storage of fish oil which the company imports and exports.
‟I’ve been fighting for this for sixteen years. It’s always been a struggle with capacity and getting the logistics right moving oil from one silo to another to have it purified, not least because consignments of oil come in different grades. All that money we’ve spent on silo hire and transport over the years could have paid for this a long time ago,” explains Krejlgaard.
In front of the two nearly completed silos are two smaller silos which are currently being built. One by one, a handful of workers emerge from a small trailer at the construction site. They are about to start working again after a brief downpour. Next to the four rust-red silos is the foundation for a further four silos which is currently filled with water after a rainy weekend. The plan is to build all eight silos, but at the moment only the first four are underway.
Bent Krejlgaard, Terminal Manager at ED&F Man, in front of the two silos which are currently being built by the company.
The silos will be filled
ED&F Man imports fish oil from primarily South, Central and North America, and the company at Port Esbjerg acts as a kind of border control before the fish oil may be exported on. ED&F Man receives between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes of fish oil annually, of which 98 per cent is exported to Norway, where it is used for fish feed. Some 1,000 tonnes are used for human consumption.
Fact box on ED&F Man
However, it has slowed down imports that ED&F Man does not have enough silos. Fish oil comes in nine different grades and it is a logistical challenge when large consignments arrive. That is why Krejlgaard is delighted with the new silos which can hold 1,100 tonnes of fish oil each.
‟We get consignments with up to 15,000 tonnes of oil which we don’t have capacity for. So the new silos will be filled. I’m sure it’s a good investment and we’re also working on getting more customers,” he says.
The new silos will not be put into service until some time in May. They still need insulation, so they will look like the existing eight silos of varying size whose grey exterior contrasts with the new rust-red ones.
Annually between eight and twelve ships deliver fish oil to ED&F Man. Some of the oil is exported on directly while other customers have their oil stored in the silos. In a couple of days, one of the grey 4,800-cubic metre silos will be drawn for 2,000 tonnes of oil. Therefore, Krejlgaard has asked two colleagues to start the circulation of the oil in the silo. The oil has a tendency to settle and thicken at the bottom, which is why circulation is necessary before the oil is exported. A pipe on one side of the silo sucks out the oil and pumps it back into the silo on the other side.
ED&F Man receives between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes of fish oil annually. The new silos can hold 1,100 tonnes of fish oil each.
Increased customer demands generate growth
The fish oil which ED&F Man imports from the Americas has an extremely high omega content of around 28 per cent. The omega content of fish feed is about 20 per cent, and ED&F Man’s customers therefore mix the oil with fish oil that has a lower omega content.
This is where the fish oil that comes from fish living in the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea comes in. The fish oil produced from these fish contains between 13 and 16 per cent omega fatty acids. Unfortunately, it also contains the environmental pollutant dioxin, because the three seas are polluted. However, TripleNine Polar Omega knows how to deal with that problem. Its premises are less than a mile away further along the harbour.
TripleNine Polar Omega purifies the fish oil and fish meal of dioxin, before the products are exported. As is the case at ED&F Man, TripleNine Polar Omega also exports the majority to Norway and for use in fish feed. In Denmark, we are not large consumers of fish oil, but Esbjerg serves as a European hub for the product, and the two companies have many of the same customers.
Fact box on TripleNine
‟Yes, you might say that we’re a cross between colleagues and competitors,” says Henrik Sørensen who is CEO of TripleNine Polar Omega.
Like ED&F Man, TripleNine Polar Omega sees a bright future ahead. 2019 was a good year and the company has grown over the last few years. Before then, the business was running at a loss for several years, so Sørensen is delighted with how things are going. The company’s focus has shifted from human consumption to fish feed, and it has made all the difference. At the same time, TripleNine Polar Omega has benefitted from both the legislation in this area and a shift in the mindset of consumers.
‟We see a renewed focus on foodstuffs, affecting the entire supply chain. My impression is that fish is back. It’s a sustainable alternative to meat, if you don’t want to be a vegetarian,” says Sørensen.
He explains that customers demand decent quality which is why fish farmers, for instance, want to buy dioxin-free fish oil for their fish feed.
TripleNine Polar Omega has been leading the field in this respect. This is a huge advantage now when customers want more, both in terms of quantity and quality. In addition, the company already has the capacity to increase production. As Sørensen puts it: things are going TripleNine Polar Omega’s way at the moment. The only challenge is the availability of raw materials.
Bjarne Frederiksen, Plant Manager (left), and Henrik Sørensen, CEO (right), are walking in the TripleNine Polar Omega factory where the purification process takes place.
The smell of fish
It is TripleNine Polar Omega’s doing that there is still a slight smell of fish in the air at Port Esbjerg. It is the fish meal that hits your nostrils already in TripleNine Polar Omega’s control room. Here, the company has two enormous screens in the corner of the room. Practically the entire purification process is fully automated, and pairs of operators are on duty around the clock keeping their eyes on silos and pipes.
TripleNine Polar Omega purifies around 50,000 tonnes of fish oil and 25,000 tonnes of fish meal a year. The fish meal is purified in a facility that most of all resembles an adventure playground. Yellow, green and red pipes intertwine in a complex network, where pressure gauges and blue wheel handles constitute blind alleys.
The colours of the pipes have an intuitive function according to Bjarne Frederiksen who is Plant Manager at TripleNine Polar Omega. Like a set of traffic lights, the red pipes are filled with steam and are burning hot, the yellow pipes contain fish oil while there is cooling water in the green pipes. The first step in the process is to separate out the oil and the second step is the purification.
‟It’s a fantastic process once it gets going, because the process simply runs itself. But during start-up and shut-down, you really need to concentrate. The thing is, we use hexane for the purification process and the fumes are flammable, so we have to remove all the oxygen from the machinery,” explains Frederiksen.
Today, there is no production in progress, and Frederiksen wears his normal clothes. But the uniform is actually a blue top and a white helmet.
‟Like little Smurfs,” jokes Sørensen.
TripleNine Polar Omega purifies around 50,000 tonnes of fish oil and 25,000 tonnes of fish meal a year.
Liquid black gold
Today, there are workers repairing something in the section where the fish oil undergoes the purification process, but on a small screen in the control room, you can look into the building which is grey and dull-looking compared to the colourful fish-meal facility. By contrast, the fish oil inside the pipes appears to be the purest of gold which Frederiksen shows us in a test tube.
Back in the control room, Frederiksen pulls out a tub from the cupboard and shows me something that looks like black gold. Small, shiny, smooth, black fish-oil pellets are glistening in the plastic tub.
‟These are our fringe benefits,” says Sørensen and laughs.
Plant Manager Bjarne Frederiksen shows a test tube with fish oil.