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Reactor design is set to reduce the cost of chemical processing

Chemical Engineer

25 November 2019

As the chemical sector continues to grow its green credentials, there is a resurgence of interest in reactor design as a way to cut costs and improve safety and efficiency.

Muriel Cozier

Process intensification has become a pursuit of the chemical industry as it seeks to reduce energy consumption along with its spatial and material footprint.

Two chemical explosions, one at BASF in Oppau, Germany, in 1921 and the other at AZF fertiliser factory in Toulouse, France during 2001, were similar in that they both involved sizable volumes of ammonia nitrate which was stored on site. One to the advantages of process intensification is that the quantities of chemicals stored on site can be reduced.

Process intensification has been around for a number of years, an early example being Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Tennessee, US which piloted a way to produce methyl acetate. The method, used in 1980, integrated five separate reaction and purification processes all taking place in an 80 metre tower. The process shrank Eastman’s energy requirements for methyl acetate production by 80%.

Despite the advantages process intensification has been slow to catch on mainly due to limitations such as equipment design. But advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing can turn complicated equipment design into a reality quite cheaply. Another challenge is scale-up, as temperature gradients and side reactions are likely. Reactor designs are taking into account these issues and incorporating elements such as novel flow techniques.  

For further details visit this month’s Chemistry & Industry.

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