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PROCESS DESIGN TRENDS

©Copyright 2000 American Institute

of Chemical Engineers. All rights reserved. Copying and downloading permitted with restrictions.

Today, we are witnessing important new developments that go beyond “traditional” chemical engineering. Engineers at many universities and

industrial research centers are working on novel equipment and techniques that potentially could transform our concept of chemical plants and lead to compact, safe, energy-efficient, and envi- ronment-friendly sustainable processes. These developments share a common focus on “process intensification” — an approach that has been around for quite some time but has truly emerged only in the past few years as a special and inter- esting discipline of chemical engineering.

In this article, we take a closer look at pro- cess intensification. We define what it involves, discuss its dimensions and structure, and review recent developments in process-intensifying de- vices and methods.

What is process intensification?

One of the woodcuts in the famous 16th century book by Georgius Agricola (1) illus- trates the process of retrieving gold from gold ore (Figure 1). The resemblance between some of the devices shown in the picture (for in- stance, the stirred vessels O and the stirrers S) and the basic equipment of today’s chemical process industries (CPI) is striking. Indeed, Agricola’s drawing shows that process intensi-

fication, no matter how we define it, does not seem to have had much impact in the field of stirring technology over the last four centuries, or perhaps even longer. But, what actually is process intensification?

In 1995, while opening the 1st International Conference on Process Intensification in the Chemical Industry, Ramshaw, one of the pio- neers in the field, defined process intensifica- tion as a strategy for making dramatic reduc- tions in the size of a chemical plant so as to reach a given production objective (2). These reductions can come from shrinking the size of individual pieces of equipment and also from cutting the number of unit operations or appa- ratuses involved. In any case, the degree of re- duction must be significant; how significant remains a matter of discussion. Ramshaw speaks about volume reduction on the order of 100 or more, which is quite a challenging number. In our view, a decrease by a factor of two already bears all attributes of a drastic step change and, therefore, should be consid- ered as process intensification.

On the other hand, Ramshaw’s definition is quite narrow, describing process intensifica- tion exclusively in terms of the reduction in plant or equipment size. In fact, this is merely one of several possible desired effects. Clear- ly, a dramatic increase in the production ca-

Process Intensification: Transforming

Chemical Engineering

Emerging equipment, processing techniques,

and operational methods promise spectacular improvements in process plants, markedly shrinking their size and dramatically boosting their efficiency. These developments may result in the extinction

of some traditional types of equipment, if not

whole unit operations.

Andrzej I. Stankiewicz,

DSM Research/Delft University of Technology

Jacob A. Moulijn,

Delft University of Technology

22 January 2000

Chemical Engineering Progress

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