Future chemical plants could halve environmental footprint of processes
Europe's chemical industry has developed new technologies to support the shift towards greater versatility and smaller environmental footprints.
Two new EU funded projects have produced new technologies, processes and manufacturing concepts that will feed into the design and operation of "innovative chemical plants".
According to the European Commission, the results of their work have the potential to provide the chemical industry with a much-needed competitive boost.
One of the projects called CoPIRIDE is designed to embed a chemical plant in a 3-by-12-metre container, making it more capable of adapting to market trends and bringing process and product innovations faster to market.
Project coordinator and head of the Mixing and Fine Chemistry Department at the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz, Dr Patrick Löb, said: "The team developed novel miniaturised reactors (micro-reactors) - designed to fit inside these garage-sized plants - that give operators far better control over chemical reactions. This advance will lead to more sustainable processing, with fewer inputs of energy and raw materials".
As part of the project, a demonstration plant was set up to allow researchers to explore the feasibility of producing biodiesel from waste oils in supercritical conditions.
The demonstration targeted cost efficiency, greater competitiveness and improved sustainability compared to other starting materials and processing conditions. The gasification of biomass to produce chemicals and ammonia, which can then be processed into fertiliser, was also trialled.
Also funded by the EU, the project called F³ Factory focuses on reconciling the "seemingly conflicting requirements" of flexibility and resource efficiency.
It translated into the development of a standardised, modular type of plant designed for easy deployment throughout the industry - a 'plug-and-play', container-based production facility.
The Commission says the outcomes offer "intriguing possibilities", while partners of the project estimate that their technology can, for example, reduce time-to-market by up to 50%, cut operating expenses and capital expenses by as much as 20% and 40% respectively, and potentially halve the environmental footprint of individual processes.
Project coordinator Dr Sigurd Buchholz of Bayer Technology Services said: "We were able to boost the efficiency of various process steps by orders of magnitude".
Further work is being carried out to prepare F³ Factory for widespread deployment, and a number of partners are planning to adopt it alongside existing facilities.