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Integrating Separation and Reaction Technologies

Final Report Summary - INSERT (Integrating Separation and Reaction Technologies)

At the heart of the chemical, petrochemical, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, biochemicals and electronics industries is the chemical conversion of raw materials to higher value products. Usually one or more separation steps are needed to isolate the desired products, prepare the feed mixtures, recover useful material from waste streams, etc. Recycles are also commonplace, allowing unconverted materials to be reused, rather than wasted. The overall chemical conversion process is thus a reaction and separation (R&S) system. These two phenomena interact strongly: as a result, process designs should aim to exploit synergies between them.

The general issue of process design and optimisation, taking into account reaction, separation and recycle, is an ongoing area of research, with applications for both chemical and biochemical reactions. Advanced process technologies across the spectrum of industries are exploiting beneficial interactions between R&S. In a number of cases, combining of the R&S steps within processing equipment leads to step changes in the state of the art.

Examples include reactive distillation processes, membrane reactors, simulated moving bed reactors, reaction in supercritical fluids, reactive liquid-liquid extraction, reactive absorption and reactive stripping In the recent years, the demand in the development of novel processes integrating traditional unit operations into more complex process combinations has been progressively increasing. These combinations lumping together functionalities of different type and nature bring about several important advantages among which are capital cost reduction, increase of product yield and considerable reductions in energy, water and solvent consumption as required by the EU Council Directive 76/769/EEC. To meet this demand, new integration concepts have to be developed.

INSERT activities comprised both theoretical and experimental work performed in parallel, with established close links between the partners involved in the relevant tasks. The main goal of the theoretical part was to develop an integration methodology and software tools, whereas the experimental part was mainly directed to provide necessary data for the model development and validation.

In the first stage of the project, computer hardware/software facilities and interfaces were agreed and corresponding chemical test systems, catalysts, internals and equipment necessary for the project accomplishment were established. Besides, metrics on environmental impact, process economics, safety, etc. were specified. Next, generic models and methods were developed to allow a range of alternative processes to be screened to best exploit interactions between the R&S processes. This work was supported by the investigation of swelling and shrinking behaviour of catalyst and scale-up methods.

Much effort was done to collect physicochemical and operational parameters necessary for the simulations. Missing data were measured, some other were estimated. All these data were collected in the relevant database. Simultaneously, the equipment for mini-plant and pilot plant experiments was commissioned and pilot plant experimental investigations were performed. Reactions integrated with distillation, adsorption, membranes and dividing wall columns were investigated. Six chemical systems with modifications, different sequences were investigated at different partners' sites. These complex and interrelated activities were based on a carefully designed work plan as well as on a good communication flow, and close collaboration of all partners and co-ordinating team.

At the end of the project, promising process equipment was designed, modelled, analysed and the designs and models were tested. Highly novel processes, including the reactive dividing wall column, were developed and evaluated, and several relatively immature technologies were further advanced, potentially resulting in step changes in processing technologies. The models and methods developed formed the basis of generic computer-aided process-engineering tools for synthesis and optimisation of reaction-separation sequences.

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