Enabling Modular Process Intensification through Microfibrous Entrapment Technology

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 24, 2018
  • Duration:
    20 minutes
  • PDHs:
    0.30

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Fundamental rate phenomena and their interactions commonly limit the feasibility of modular chemical process intensification. Process intensification can be achieved using four distinct approaches which include integration of unit operations, integration of functions, integration of phenomena, and targeted enhancement of phenomena in operations [Eden and Gani]. When implementing any of these approaches, situations often arise when the heat and mass transport limitations of traditional designs and materials do not accommodate the fundamental transport needs necessary to properly intensify the system. When this occurs, engineers often attempt to employ methodologies that contain complex reactor structures and processing approaches to enhance these phenomena. These approaches typically never pass the bench or pilot scale due to limitations in reliability, manufacturability, and cost. It is necessary to simultaneously overcome these limitations to produce a modular process intensified system. For modular systems, it is often necessary to achieve economic improvements by implementing simplified systems with high manufacturability that enable cost reductions by numbering-up with assembly-line production approaches as opposed to custom field constructed systems.

IntraMicron’s microfibrous entrapment technology is ideally suited to assist with process intensifying reactive systems that have fundamental heat and mass transport limitations. Microfibrous entrapment consists of entrapping active grains of catalyst and sorbent within a sinter-locked fibrous network. When this network is composed of metal fibers, the structure has an effective radial thermal conductivity that is 250-times greater than a traditional packed bed reactor system coupled with a 10-fold enhancement in mass transport phenomena. Simultaneously providing a fundamental enhancement in heat and mass transport in reactive systems greatly facilitates the other aforementioned process intensification methodologies including integrating functions, phenomena, and unit operations. IntraMicron and its partners have been investigating the application of this technology to systems that enable up to 9 levels of process intensification in a single vessel by combining numerous reaction steps and eliminating intermediate separations. The heat and mass transport benefits provided by microfibrous entrapment are akin to those provided by a fluidized bed reactor; however, microfibrous entrapment enables these benefits to be achieved in a simple, robust, scalable, easily-manufactured fixed bed system. For example, the application of this approach to Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis reactor enables up to a 4-fold enhancement in tube diameter, 16-fold reduction in tube count, and 4-fold reduction in overall reactor volume while providing enhanced reactor temperature uniformity and selectivity. Microfibrous materials are highly manufacturable because they are produced by robust, roll-to-roll wetlay and sintering processes. Furthermore, sintered microfibrous materials can be manufactured in a pre-form to enable the entrapment of catalyst and sorbent particles produced by any manufacturer. The enhanced performance, robustness, and manufacturability of microfibrous materials coupled with the simplicity of the reactors necessary to implement this technology make it ideal for implementation in modular process intensified systems.

This presentation will discuss several current and ongoing applications of microfibrous materials and their process intensification benefits including gas-to-liquids(GTL), reforming, ion exchange, pressure swing adsorption, and fine chemicals synthesis. IntraMicron has demonstrated several GTL reactors across the country at scales up-to 2 bpd and is in discussions to demonstrate this technology at scales of 25 – 100 bbl/day for distributed energy applications. IntraMicron recently received a grant from RAPID to investigate the application of microfibrous entrapment technology to assist with the process intensification and modularization of Ion exchange systems for nuclear waste treatment and CO2 removal from natural gas through pressure swing adsorption. The application of this technology for transitioning from batch to flow processing for fine/specialty chemicals will also be highlighted.

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