Projects where we get to nerd out on process engineering are the best. We love engineering like a boss, especially with projects where we get exposed to a new technology or approach. In reviewing the modular pilot plants & process systems that really got us going this year, three projects stood out:
Modular Pilot Plant Design for Carbon Dioxide Sequestration
EPIC partnered with Gas Technology Institute (GTI) – a non-profit organization supported by the U.S. Department of Energy – to engineer and fabricate a pilot plant system that tests the process of carbon dioxide removal from flue gas at coal-based power plants. This technology, if proven successful at the pilot level, could be scaled up and implemented at every coal plant in the country, significantly reducing America’s carbon footprint.
What this Demo Plant Does
Building from a process flow diagram (PFD) for a similar flue gas desulfurization process, this system:
- Replaces the typical sulfur absorption unit with a gas-to-liquid membrane absorption system
- The absorption system utilizes a liquid with an affinity for CO2 to traps it as flue gas passes by the membrane
- In a second processing step, CO2 is recovered and regenerated so that it can be reused instead of releasing it directly into the environment.
Why We Had Fun
In the early phases of engineering, EPIC’s engineers discovered that the second stage of the process – recovery and regeneration of the CO2 – could not be accomplished through the client’s proposed membrane process. Things certainly get interesting when major technology steps need to be revamped!
Our engineers dove in and figure out a more traditional thermodynamic separation process to achieve the same result. You don’t always have to invent the wheel to make a new technology work! The adjusted process uses heat exchangers and flash tanks to release and isolate the sequestered CO2.
Thanks to EPIC’s longtime experience as a full-service engineering and fabrication firm – this potential pitfall as well as others were easily avoided.
Industrial Batch Reactor Design with Intrinsically Safe I/O and Explosion Proofing
Potentially dangerous processes are a safety challenge we love to solve with solid process engineering and manufacturing safety best practices. When an innovative polymer manufacturer approaches us for a batch reactor modular pilot plant, we happily took on the challenge of designing the module with intrinsically safe I/O barriers and wiring, heavy-walled conduit and sealed-off pipe fittings to prevent transference of flammable vapors from one part of the system to another. The result was a custom batch reaction system with limited spark potential.
What the Polymer Modular Pilot Plant Does
The batch reactor module makes various sized batches of polymers. The system included manual, vacuum assisted powder additions and automated mixing, batch reacting, and manual storage in 55-gallon drums.
Why We Had Fun
The process challenge on this job was properly sizing the system’s rotating and mechanical equipment. The pumps had to be capable, not only of mixing a thick polymer during industrial batch reactions, but also of running a less viscous solvent through the pipes during cleaning. This required installation of positive displacement pumps that can run a full range of speeds including 25% speed for polymer mixing and 120% of its normal speed for cleaning the system.
We also had to design a safe system. With nearly 25 years of experience designing industrial process systems together, our in-house teams of process & mechanical and power & controls engineers were able to work together to add automated safety controls and mechanical upgrades that we know work in the industrial environment modular pilot plants are often operated in. Beyond the obvious benefits of having cohesive mechanical and electrical designs, EPIC’s 2+ decades of industrial automation experience ensured that the customer received the safest and simplest solution possible.
Batch Distillation System Scale-up with Modular Design
EPIC enabled a flavor manufacturer to increase the speed of production by engineering an upscaled modular version of an existing batch distillation system. The newly designed system was 22-feet tall and featured a distillation column, stainless steel tank, vacuum pump and a split-level design that allowed it to be broken down, shipped and reconstructed within a tight floor space at the customer’s commercial processing plant.
What the Distillation Pilot Plant Did
The distillation system extracted a delicate flavor that is in high demand by the client’s end customers. Although they had an existing process for producing the flavor, production rates were dismal and took nearly three days to produce a full batch.
One of the best aspects of this job was being able to take a functional distillation process and make it sexy. As a result of EPIC’s ingenuity, the customer received a batch distillation system that was bigger and better in every way. The tank, temperature control unit, condenser, distillation column, and reflux splitter we all upgraded. Specifically, the new system increased the process boil-up rate, thus allowing for faster production of more flavor product.
Creating the upgraded batch distillation column design was a unique engineering challenge. With limited access to the customer’s original process information documents, EPIC’s process engineers relied heavily on past project experience to extract the P&ID for the modular pilot plants design verbally from the customer.
Using that information, we were able to create a pretty awesome distillation skid that impressed the client.
As true process engineering nerds, we always love a challenge. Where there is a will, there is a way, and our team loves to figure out the best way to make your process system dreams come true. If you have a project that could make for a fun challenge, learn more about our capabilities or contact us to get RFQ pricing.