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Rational Reactor Design for Enhanced Efficiency in the European Speciality Chemicals Industry

Final Report Summary - RRD4E2 (Rational Reactor Design for Enhanced Efficiency in the European Speciality Chemicals Industry)

The project "Rational Reactor Design for Enhanced Efficiency in the European Speciality Chemicals Industry (RRD4E2)" entangles a leading European specialty chemicals producer, LONZA, with a prime research site in Chemical Reaction Engineering and Reactor Design, FAU Erlangen.

The Aim of the EID project “RRD4E2” was: step-changing scientific achievements and technology improvements as well as transfer of these results into the industrial environment at LONZA.
The following three industrially relevant processes of LONZA have been selected for closer investigation in the proposed research program. Each industrial process with different chemistriesand different types of engineering challenges is addressed in one independent ESR-project
A) Heterogeneously-catalyzed gas-phase processes.
B) High temperature syntheses in the gas-phase via radical mechanisms.
C) Liquid-phase condensation reactions under high temperature and pressure conditions.

In particular, each of the three deals with the industrial scale production of nitrogen bearing small molecules or hetero-cycles. These building-blocks are key to many modern products and materials in pharmacy, consumer care, nutrition, agro-ingredients and high-performance materials.
RRD4E2 was a strongly application driven project. The ESR projects were not split into scientific methodologies or technologies but every ESR dealt with one specific process example on all stages of the optimization process. By this approach RRD4E2 taught and followed a general route to approach challenges in a rational process optimization.

It was the central goal of the project to train and qualify the ESRs in the entire process of rational reactor design and its industrial implementation. In this way they are prepared in an ideal manner for the needs and challenges for the European chemical and process industries in the 21st century.

An approach using both model-based techniques and experimental validation complimentarily identified bottle-necks and hot-spots in each process. Consequently an optimized reactor geometry could be proposed and validated experimentally again. For each of the three projects a close interlink between experimental and theoretical studies both at LONZA and FAU were crucial and highly instructive for the training of the ESRs. Scientifically the use of more than 12 calculation and modelling systems and programs were used to evaluate reaction networks with the formation and decay of more than 40 molecular species. Thermodynamically and kinetic constants were modelled using ab-initio, statistical and molecular dynamic methods. Established large-scale processes and reactors of Lonza were replicated with different reactor geometries in the lab to validate the theoretical findings. By this, the crucial validation loop between the theoretical and experimental evaluation of WP2 and WP4 was established and was maintained to achieve a proposal for the final improvement of the relevant industrial large-scale processes.

Economically the ESRs could show a relevant commercial potential if their technical improvements to the processes and reactor geometries. The found technical improvements were evaluated also in an economic way. Expected cost estimations and adapted business case considerations were defined and discussed comparatively between FAU, Lonza R&D and affected Lonza manufacturing plants.
Contrary to bulk chemicals, industrial production processes for specialty chemicals are often not fully explored with regard to rational process optimization. Instead processes are improved gradually in an iterative manner based on practical experience. The reactor concept is not always adapted to the requirements of the chemical reaction which leads to inefficiencies in material and energy consumption. Most relevant, many chemical reactions are not operated within the most efficient process window concerning activity, selectivity and spacetime-yield. It is obvious that such inefficiencies also affect the process economics and the ecological footprint of the chemical operation. In the light of increasing economic pressure of European speciality chemicals producers from competitors of emerging economies, it is very timely to implement the recent progress in rational reactor design and modelling into industrial practice
Major interest of the RRD4E2 project was to teach the ESRs those considerations in an industrial environment several workshops were held. A workshop on upscaling, modelling and process development for chemical processes was the start of this teaching series which was followed by three further workshops on business development. During the course of this four sequential work-shops the subjects taught and the considerations discusses were getting closer to the details of the real case evalutaions the ESRs dealt with. Therefore only the first two work-shops were available to a wider public while the last two work-shop on business development were also accompanied by Lonza professionals from marketing and manufacturing.

In terms of the potential for exploitation the findings and proposed improvements of the RRD4E2 project are of value and may have the potential to change the sustainability of the assayed processes both economically and ecologically. This will foster the European chemical industry especially in the environment of a strongly growing global competition.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the chosen industrial model processes that are old processes and often out of patent already, any improvement found by the RRD4E2 project was not easy to transfer into protected intellectual property in the form of a patent application. Often the requirements to be granted for a patent in terms of novelty and inventive step were not fulfilled by the findings of the RRD4E2 ESR projects, which is often the case for process improvement projects. Therefore for the Consortium decided to keep many of the results and work confidential until the final assessment which will be outside of the RRD4E2 project but in close cooperation between the two partners FAU and Lonza.
Because of this outreach-activities and the proposed dissemination goals were not fully accomplished by the end of the project. For sure both partners FAU and Lonza keep on working together and have a strong interest to communicate the success and improvement of the RRD4E2 project to the scientific and the wider community. Also both partner stay active in supporting European science to the public by taking part in job-fares, general trade-fares and looking for more opportunities on public-private cooperation.

In the still male-dominated field of Chemical Engineering, the RRD4E2 project recruiting teams have managed to encourage suitably qualified female applicants, consistent with the EC work program and the objective of gender mainstreaming.