10 Trends for the Process Industry You Should Know
There is currently a lot of talk about mega-trends, such as globalisation. Our look at the trends will not centre on these headline issues. Read here what is on the mind of the process industry at this year’s ACHEMA.
The world of plant engineering and construction is at the moment vacillating between the extremes: in China, India and on the Arabian peninsula, world-scale plants are springing up everywhere, and in Europe process engineers are trying out ideas for chemical containers and modular plant concepts.
Manufacturers of bulk chemicals (commodities) such as fertilisers or primary plastics, including the basic film materials polyethylene and polypropylene, are attracted to regions with raw material sources, such as the Middle East, where huge chemicals complexes are being built at this moment. For example: Saudi Arabia, location Jubail. Here, for US$ 20 billion, in a joint venture with Saudi-Aramco, Dow is conjuring up a factory out of the desert sand, with the intention of churning out three million tonnes of chemical products per year from 2016 on.
Modular plant construction:
Bigger, higher, further is the motto in major plant engineering and construction, which is increasingly moving its base to the emerging markets. Faster, cheaper and more flexible, in contrast, are the watch-words when the subject is fine and speciality chemicals. If modular plant construction and chemicals containers are really going to be the answer to everything will come out in the wash. At the moment, at least, everyone with a name and reputation in the sector is looking into ideas intended to get the German and European chemicals industries back into top shape. All of this is running under the catch-word 50 Percent Idea and connects projects such as F3 Copiride or the Evotrainer by Evonik
The digital plant:
Another facet of the 50 Percent Idea is the digital plant. Jürgen S. Kussi, Head of Plant Layout and Piping at Bayer Technology Services, is one of those convinced that this will switch on a turbine capable of reducing project development times, from the idea to the completed plant, by half. The trend-setter here is the chemicals giant BASF, which in 2010 launched an ambitious project with the self-introducing name Digital Plant @ BASF2020. The aim behind it: for every real plant, a digital plant should also exist. What is needed are standards and object-orientated integrated CAE systems which network 2D and 3D planning on an inter-tool and inter-disciplinary level. In addition: software which makes it possible to commission and maintain a plant on the basis of the planning data.
Process analysis technology:
The PAT classic NIR has in the meantime become standard in chemicals — the NIR probe in the column sump of the distillation plant, for example.
But now PAT is successful under the heading knowledge-based production and is now set not only to bring light into events in the reactor, but also to help to operate plants “close to the wind”, i.e. optimised in terms of process technology and economics. It is furthermore a feature of genuinely forward-looking operation that data is analysed “hot from the process” and fed into a closed loop which in turn inputs into the process control system.
Experts can argue splendidly over whether process intensification is new or simply old wine in new skins. Whatever the case, the fact is that in recent years clever equipment has been developed for combining basic process operations such as, for example, mixing and separating. The best known is reactive distillation, which is generally categorised under process integration.
But process intensification is much more than hybrid machines: it is a matter of improving heat and material exchange, thus opening new process windows and developing e.g. nano-scale characteristics, as Volker Hessel, Director of IMM (Mainz) and team member on the Copiride project, explains.
Running a chloralkali electrolysis consumes as much energy as a small town, and in the production of some basic chemicals the share of energy in the costs is as high as 60%. These figures alone underline the importance of energy-efficient processes. But there are hardly any small adjustment screws left, since many processes have already been tuned to the limit. BASF chairman Harald Schwager confirmed this recently in a PROCESS interview: “To be honest, much of what is technically realisable has already been done by us at BASF plants.”
The topic energy efficiency has therefore become an issue for top management and a major strategic consideration. Synergies between production plants on the same site have become more important, for example, and chemicals parks, with their centralised infrastructures, are gaining even more significance. In the meantime, the Namur has also declared energy efficiency a trans-sector topic, and the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) is pushing the cause forward with its Blue Competence initiative.
It is still anyone’s guess when the plant constructor in the process industry, too, will be obliged to estimate potential climate gas emissions even in the tender documents. Yet the carbon footprint is already putting pressure on management in the sector. This is evident from projects at e.g. Bayer. The corporation is investigating 100 plants worldwide with the help of the Climate Check. The special point here: for the first time, the experts evaluate the entire production process, including all pre-products and energies.
The Climate Check combines two elements: the climate footprint, which indicates the climate-relevant effects of the production of a product, and the energy efficiency check, which works out the potential for reduction. At ACHEMA, Veolia, plant constructor for water plants, will present a method of determining the carbon footprint of water treatment plants.
“Germany is leading in the development of high-value technologies in the field of resource efficiency,” Thomas Bieringer, CEO of Invite, recently said in an interview. But how does resource efficiency really look in the process industry? The resource most in discussion since the energy turn-around is without doubt energy, which is of particular importance for the chemicals sector. But it is also important to conserve raw materials, whether re-growable or fossil.
How one can apply resource efficiency to the details of the production of automation components can be shown by, for example, Wago or Gemü, who have integrated the principle of sustainability into their firm’s philosophy.
Nothing is as permanent as change — this is the core statement of the Operational Excellence initiatives in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry. Exploding raw material and energy costs, an international field of competitors that is cooperating ever more closely, and the prospering Asians — the grounds for activities of this kind are well-known.
Almost all major players in the sector, such as Evonik, Clariant, Merck or Roche, are therefore striving for Operational Excellence, pursuing on this path the aim of conquering or maintaining places at the top. There are many starting points: energy efficiency and capacity bottle-necks are recurrent topics, as are the wish for higher plant availability or the idea of merging process steps with each other and thus intensifying processes.
Raw materials shift:
Mineral oil, coal, natural gas or bio-mass — the discussion about the raw material mix of the future has just begun. “In the medium term, the basis will widen from mineral oil to natural gas,” predicts Professor Michael Röper, responsible for Science Relations and Innovation Management at BASF. But biomass is also becoming more important, a trend from the plant constructors in particular are profiting.
For, until now, syngas has been the most important intermediate when it is a question of use as a chemical raw material. But hybrid processes, combining biotechnology and chemical synthesis, are also gaining popularity, as exemplified by polybutylene succinate. The plant constructor Uhde Inventa-Fischer has just presented a process for manufacturing the biopolymer polybutylene succinate (PBS), produced by continuous poly-condensation of succinic acid and butanediol. A pilot-project will start very soon in Leuna/Germany.
Author / Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern / Dominik Stephan