Modular and Agile Design for Unconventional Natural Gas Utilization

Authors: 
Hasan, M. M. F., Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University
Arora, A., Texas A&M University
Li, J., Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University
With increasing volatility in chemical market, fixed stick-built plants are finding it challenging to meet evolving uncertainty and variability in product demands [1]. The chemical plants of the future need to be more modular and flexible in terms of raw material feedstocks utilized, intermittent energy supplied, commodity chemicals produced, and production capacities achieved [2]. The challenges faced in increasing plants flexibility can be addressed through modular manufacturing wherein off-the-shelf operational modules are manufactured independently and are interconnected in a plug-and-play fashion. The use of modular equipment manufacturing and operation has several advantages including specialized equipment manufacturing; lower labor, logistics and manufacturing costs; faster deployment and time-to-market; and favorable economies of mass production [3]. Specifically, such modular production facilities are well-suited for production of specialty chemicals with small capacities or high volatility.

To this end, we develop a unified design and optimization framework for (i) mass-producing modular processing units with fixed design specifications which can be used in diverse chemical industries with inherent synergies; and (ii) developing flexible chemical processes which are suitable for toll-manufacturing and produce a variety of value-added chemicals using different feedstocks. The versatility of the framework will be demonstrated for producing several value-added chemicals from natural gas using flexible chemical process with modular processing units.

[1] T. Bieringer, S. Buchholz, N. Kockmann, Future Production Concepts in the Chemical Industry: Modular--Small-Scale--Continuous, Chem. Eng. Technol. 36 (2013) 900–910.

[2] R.E. Swaney, I.E. Grossmann, An index for operational flexibility in chemical process design. Part I: Formulation and theory, AIChE J. 31 (1985) 621–630.

[3] M. Baldea, T.F. Edgar, B.L. Stanley, A.A. Kiss, Modular Manufacturing Processes: Status, Challenges and Opportunities, AIChE J. (2017).