9 + 1 golden tips for process optimization in chemical engineering

Many companies in the chemical engineering space struggle with their objective to increase efficiency and lower costs in their processes. The best way to do so is to design and implement innovative processes steps while maintaining or improving the quality of their products. Equally important is increasing safe operations and decreasing downtime of the installations. Implementing new processes is challenging, through, as inefficiencies in the process become apparent only after the units have been running for a certain amount of time. Moreover, new investments will only be considered once the existing units have been depreciated or have become obsolete.

How do you work on process optimization while ensuring the continuous quality of the production? And how do you make sure new and more cost-efficient separation processes do not compromise the quality of the end product? There are several strategies that chemical engineering companies can adopt when implementing cost efficient and safe processes. In this blog, we review our top 10.

1. Adherence to quality and safety
Safe plant operations and quality products are critical to the subsistence of the business. Simply optimizing a process for better yield is not enough; the end products also need to meet high-quality standards. For example, using a hydraulic wash column for melt crystallization should not only utilize less energy, it should also lead to high quality separation results in order to be deemed as a truly optimized process.

 

 

2. Increased automation
Automation of key chemical engineering processes is making plants more efficient and effective. Your company can benefit from using distributed control systems that automate key processes through integrating machines, monitoring performance and using sensors to communicate key information.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Introducing continuous process steps
A good route to constant quality and lower costs in chemical engineering is making the switch from batch to continuous processes. Batch processes tend to be inefficient and more difficult to control. With continuous processes, companies can increase consistency in product quality and often reduce operational costs through reduced waste and more efficient use of utilities.

 

 

4. Using catalysts to yield better results
Catalysts have always been a chemical engineer’s best friend, speeding up chemical reactions and leading to greater yields. In your plant you should seek to catalyze chemical processes as much as possible and consider switching stoichiometric processes into catalytic processes. Using catalysts can lead to significantly more efficient production processes in a relatively short amount of time.

 

 

5. Materials maintenance
An often-overlooked aspect of process optimization in chemical engineering is the proper maintenance of equipment within the plant. Inefficient machines can lead to high operational costs. Therefore, the performance of machines and other equipment needs to be closely monitored on a regular basis. The use of industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies can closely monitor equipment for performance issues.

 

 

6. Balancing the yield and production cost
Chemical processes often begin with a high yield, after which the products taper off and there is no significant change in yield during subsequent stages of the chemical reaction. Plants should identify the point at which production costs supersede the yield and limit the progress of the reaction until this point. Another strategy is to reuse reaction inputs with other subsequent substrates in order to reduce production costs.

 

 

 

7. Waste water management
The presence of non-biodegradable components in specific process streams can lead to inefficiencies in process management. A solution is to pretreat these components with Low Pressure Oxidation (LOPOX). The process involves the use of high temperatures and pressure, where oxygen and acid are used to catalyze the breakdown of various contaminants. The procedure leads to the decomposition of non-biodegradable materials into biodegradable waste products. Companies can also reduce the cost of wastewater treatment by up to 50% when they utilize Ultrasonic treatment for managing biosolids.

 

 

8. Optimizing distillation columns
While distillation is one of the most commonly used separation methods in chemical engineering, it is also very energy intensive. In fact, it can consume up to 90% of the total energy in regular chemical processes. Column optimization during distillation can be achieved in several ways. First off, the column can be decreased in length while varying the content of liquids and the composition of the column. In addition, the number of trays used can be kept at a minimum, while reducing the overall size.

 

 

 

9. Reducing air pollution
An efficient strategy for reducing air pollution is to oxidize NOX into other substrates without releasing nitrogen compounds into the air. This can be achieved through oxidizing NOX to nitrogen, water, and CO2. Urea and sulfuric acid may be necessary to utilize as scrubbing media.

 

 

 

The 10th golden tip
When it comes to process optimization in chemical engineering, there are quite a few options. As you can see, there are different ways to improve throughput, save out on energy and water and yield better results. In our white paper below, we have an 10th way of process optimization, which is all about a new and innovative way of separating and purifying substances through melt crystallization. Just click on the button below, fill out your name and email address and the document will be sent to your inbox.

Source: Dr. Joachim Veits and Dr. Kai Pflug (May 6, 2017) “Not Quite World Class Yet: Process Optimization Potential at Chinese Chemical Producers”, Special Report, in: China Chemical Reporter (www.ccr.com.cn/new/).

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