Process Value Improvement Service Can Generate Millions in Incremental Gains

San Diego, Calif. - May 12, 2003 — Reaction Design today announced a new in-depth process value improvement (PVI) service that already has established a track record in generating millions of dollars in incremental operating margins in commodity chemical plants by combining a discovery process with model-supported process improvement. One major element of the new service is an iterative discovery process that considers a wide range of technical options. Another major component is a multi-scale and multi-dimensional modeling effort. The new approach considers reactive unit operations as an integrated whole, enabling much higher levels of optimization than could be achieved by simply improving individual components in isolation. “A science-based approach can achieve enhancements of several percent in selectivity or throughput that are worth millions of dollars to a typical commodity chemical plant,” said Dr. David Klipstein, CEO of Reaction Design. As an example of the results that can be achieved he pointed to an ethylene oxide producer with whom the company has already validated improvements that have raised operating cash flow by more than 10% through yield improvements.

Traditional approaches to process improvement have focused on fitting a model based on a few reactions to experimental results. The problem with this approach, according to Dr Herman de Meyer, Chief Engineer of Reaction Design, is that it fails to consider hundreds of other reactions involved in the process, for example trace ingredients, that may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of a catalyst. “If we really want to optimize the process, the model must be very detailed,” he said. “We begin by reviewing the chemistry in order to gain an in-depth mechanistic understanding of the limiting mechanisms involved. We then start an iterative process to create a broad range of technical options by defining ways to eliminate constraining conditions. Rigorous dynamic modeling of reactors and other relevant unit operations follows as a quantification step. Subsequent ranking of the improvement opportunities is based on their return on investment. Our innovative approach integrates unit operation models and thermodynamics with fluid dynamics and micro-scale chemistry.”

This approach has already been proven in the analysis of the reactor and recycle loop of a major ethylene oxide plant. A homogenous 2D tube side distributed model was used to evaluate macroscopic effects of catalyst properties; local gas, packing and heat transfer properties. On the shell side, a computational fluid dynamics model analyzed the different heat transfer regimes due to convection, convective, stagnation and nucleate boiling and condensation. The model accounts for bubble hold-up, vapor generation, liquid entrainment, and pumped and natural recirculation in the shell-side coolant. The kinetics model delves into the underlying catalyst surface processes while off-line parameter estimation is used to take catalyst degradation into account. Opportunities identified by this approach included up to $8.7 million by improving control of the combustion inhibitor, up to $4.4 million by improving carbon dioxide removal, up to $3.5 million through homogenizing flow and $3.3 million from radial profile reduction. “Because operating margins are just a few percent in the typical commodity chemical business, fine tuning the process to improve efficiency by just a few percent can easily generate millions of dollars in additional cash flow,” Klipstein concluded.

Reaction Design, headquartered in San Diego, CA., USA is a leading international supplier and licensor of process models, chemical kinetics simulation software and technical services to the chemical, power, automotive and semiconductor industries.