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Graphic element Research > Growth > News > Press room > Tailored column internals will revolutionise integrated chemical plant design
Graphic element Tailored column internals will revolutionise integrated chemical plant design
    Creation: 23/11/01

A consortium consisting of EU and applicant country partners is developing a novel design methodology for application-tailored column internals. This approach will maximise the efficiency of a wide range of reactive separation systems and help revolutionise integrated chemical plant design. The FP5 INTINT project is building on valuable work done in an earlier Brite-Euram project on reactive distillation that made important strides in facilitating the design of cost-saving integrated process plant for the chemicals and petrochemicals industries.

The chemicals, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals industries are showing growing interest in hybrid processes that combine reaction and separation mechanisms into single, integrated operations known as 'reactive separation'. The combination of the two stages into a single unit brings important advantages, such as energy and capital cost reductions, increased yield and removal of some thermodynamic restrictions.

Reactive separations include reactive distillation, reactive absorption, reactive extraction or reactive membrane separation. So far, such processes have had industrial application mainly in areas like the homogeneously catalysed synthesis of acetates and the heterogeneously catalysed production of fuel additives. The potential is much wider. Nevertheless, optimal functioning depends on careful process design, with appropriately selected column internals, feed locations and catalyst placement. Greater understanding of the general and particular features of the process behaviour is equally essential.

While these factors are generally interrelated and have to be considered simultaneously, the correct choice of column internals is often regarded as dictating the feasibility and efficiency of an integrated process. The internals must provide specific properties related to both the reaction and separation steps. To date, however, users have been obliged to rely on the limited choice of standard internals on offer, and to adapt their processes accordingly for maximum performance. Moreover, there have been no known generic methods for extrapolating the modelling of internals up to full industrial scale so far.

EU and applicant country partners

In the GROWTH INTINT (1) project, a 15-strong consortium led by the University of Dortmund is seeking to develop new, 'intelligent' internals that can be tailored precisely to the requirements of specific reactive separation processes. Notably, mass transfer products provider Sulzer Chemtech Ltd is working together with innovative SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) Julius Montz GmbH in progressing catalyst support technology. Alongside EU chemical industry majors and universities, the team includes both industrial and academic members from Poland and Romania. As well as benefiting from participation in a broad co-operative research network, the Eastern European partners are making a valuable contribution by providing access to types of pilot plant that were not available elsewhere in the group.

The aim of the three-year initiative, which began in March 2000, is to identify methods that will permit the creation of a new relationship between users and suppliers - whereby the chemicals producers themselves can adopt an active approach in specifying internals to meet their own individual needs.

With design and modelling based directly on process analysis, rather than on consideration of component availability, the end result can be expected to approach perfection from both architectural and operational viewpoints. The new methods will also allow for rapid prototyping and a shortening of the time to market.

(1) INTINT: INTelligent column INTernals for reactive separations (GRD1 CT1999 10596)

Interactive groups

The INTINT consortium is split into two interactive groups: one is addressing the modelling and simulation aspects, while the other deals with the generation of an experimental database for model development and validation.

Three levels of software support for engineers designing reactive separation columns will be developed within the project.

ADVISER is a decision-supporting system that assembles data on column packings from various literature and industrial sources as a basis for feasibility studies into possible internals applications. PROFILER is a tool for simulating concentration profiles in the column, thus providing detailed information for overall plant design. This software package has already been improved significantly during the first half of the project by adding features as models for hydrodynamics and mass transfer, physical properties and chemical reaction kinetics.

FLOWMASTER is a software tool based on Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which allows the detailed simulation of single components inside the internals. It is based on the CFD package CFX, and has successfully been enhanced to simulate the single-phase flow inside structured packings.

Over the same period, the experimental group defined the chemical test systems, catalysts, column internals and equipment necessary for the accomplishment of the project. An initial version of a physicochemical properties database based only partly on literature data has been created. Missing data was experimentally determined within the project.

Known column internals have been produced and shipped to the partners. Experimental facilities were set-up, enabling experiments for the determination of hydraulic and mass-transfer characteristics, as well as reactive separation trials with known internals, to be carried out. First experiments for the verification and validation of the CFD simulation were also performed. The next crucial stage will be to commence the verification of PROFILER by manufacturing and testing new internals based on its simulations.

The period of the first 18 months of the experimental programme comprised the definition of hardware/software facilities; definition of chemical test systems, catalysts, internals and equipment; determination of the interfaces between the modelling and the experimental parts of the programme; exact definition of the experimental tasks and their distribution among partners. Apart from the acceptance and confirmation of the test systems to be used, effort was also taken to define clear responsibility for individual chemical test systems, so that additional co-ordination and communication would become easier.

World leadership for Europe

The co-ordinator, Prof. Andrzej Górak from the University of Dortmund, predicts that INTINT will put Europe well ahead of the rest of the world in reactive separation technology. He maintains: "Its application will dramatically improve chemical processes by reducing equipment costs and total size by up to 50%. (...) We also expect environmental benefits from increased reaction selectivity, an average saving of 10% in energy consumption and elimination of solvents used in conventional processes."

According to Prof. Górak: "The project's findings will help EU industry to gain a reasonable market share and to increase employment opportunities" and "the proposed, flexible design concept will contribute to the creation and growth of SMEs able to perform highly specialised CFD calculations and to undertake the manufacture of short-run customised internals."



Prof. Andrzej Górak
Universität Dortmund
Lehrstuhl fuer Thermische Verfahrenstechnik
Fachbereich Chemietechnik (Department of Chemical Engineering)
Emil-Figge-Strasse 70
D-44221 Dortmund, Germany
Tel: +49 231 755-2323
Fax: +49 231 755-3035

Other partners:

  • AEA Technology, UK
  • BASF, Germany
  • DSM Research, The Netherlands
  • Institute of Chemical Engineering - Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
  • Institute of Heavy Organic Synthesis 'Blachownia', Poland
  • Julius Montz, Germany
  • Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland
  • Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania
  • Research and Development Center for Refining Industry, Poland
  • Societatea Nationala a Petrolului 'PETROM', Romania
  • Sulzer Chemtech Ltd, Switzerland
  • Technische Universiteit Delft, The Netherlands
  • Universität Stuttgart, Germany
  • University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, UK
EU and applicant country partners
Interactive groups
World leadership for Europe

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