Announcement
Today the RAPID Manufacturing Institute announced its 2018 projects selected for funding. Bill Grieco, RAPID's CEO, stated, “The selection process was highly competitive.  We received 48 comprehensive submissions that not only addressed our technical focus areas but also reflected our education and workforce development goals.  Ultimately, we selected eight (8) new projects for funding, adding to our current portfolio of 25 projects which already deploy over $30 million in public-private investments." 
 

These new projects further RAPID's mission to promote process intensification (PI) in the chemicals, oil and gas, and pulp and paper industries. CTO Jim Bielenberg added, " Not only do the projects selected contribute to our focus areas but also offer novel approaches and real costs savings for industry if commercialized and implemented." 

TECHNICAL R&D PROJECTS 

(1) Modular Catalytic Partial Oxidation Reactors using Microstructured Catalyst Structures with Combined High Thermal Conductivity and Flame Extinction to Enable High Per Pass Conversion of Non-Diluted Reactants Above the LEL 

Partner Organizations – Auburn University, IntraMicron, Scientific Design, and MATRIC
 
Project Summary: This project plans to use IntraMicron’s platform technology of microfiborous entrapped catalysts (MFEC) to create a safer and more efficient process for the production of ethylene oxide.
 
Challenge Addressed: Ethylene oxide is produced via the exothermic reaction of oxygen with ethylene. Due to the poor heat transfer and flow distribution in current packed bed reactors, hotspots may form that result in poor selectivity or autoignition if the oxygen concentration is above the LEL. EO processes are typically operated with sub-stoichiometric oxygen concentrations below the LEL (i.e., less than 8%) resulting in only a 10-12% ethylene conversion per pass. The use of thermal buffering inerts such as CH4, and operating at low per pass conversion results in significant downstream costs associated with separations, recycle, BOP, and OPEX. These process inefficiencies have earned EO a spot on DOE’s Chemical Bandwidth Study target list.
 
Potential Impact: To overcome these issues, this project will apply a microfibrous entrapped catalyst (MFEC, TRL 8) with high thermal conductivity and inherent flame arresting (safety) propensity to safely break the intrinsic operation boundaries of current ethylene epoxidation processes (TRL 9). IntraMicron’s MFEC is a structured catalyst with an effective thermal conductivity 250 times higher than a typical packed bed. Due to its high thermal conductivity and highly porous nature, MFEC provides a near-isothermal intrabed temperature profile and prevents hotspot formation, autoignition, and explosions.
 

(2) High Purity Ethanol Without Distillation: Carbon Nanotube Enabled Ethanol Dewatering

Partner Organizations – University of Connecticut (UConn), Mattershift and Fraunhofer USA
 
Project Summary: This project will use a carbon nanotube (CNT) membrane to selectively extract biofuel, in this case ethanol, from a broth stream.
 
Challenge Addressed: Biofuels produced via fermentation have long been processed using decades-old technology of distillation to recover the fuel from a relatively dilute fermentation broth. Distilling a minor component of this broth to a high purity requires substantial amounts of energy that can substantially lessen the value of the fuel produced.
 
Potential Impact: UConn will lead a team in partnership with Mattershift and Fraunhofer to demonstrate that CNT membranes have exceptional performance in ethanol extraction from fermentation broths using pervaporation. The unique chemical and structural features of carbon nanotubes allow ethanol to selectively permeate through the CNT membranes, leaving water behind. These membranes are expected to take low concentration ethanol solutions (between 5 and 40%) and selectively extract it to above 80% in a single pass. Application of this technology could reduce the energy use of ethanol production by up to 90%

 

(3) Use of Power Ultrasound for Nonthermal, Nonequilibrium Separation of Ethanol/Water Solutions

Partner Organizations – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Carnegie Mellon University, Archer Daniels Midland, Flint Hills Resources

Project Summary: This project proposes to develop, test, and demonstrate a continuous-flow, scalable, nonthermal, nonequilibrium liquid separation for the test case of ethanol + water that uses ultrasound, and avoids the heat transfer losses and azeotropic bottleneck of distillation.
 
Challenge Addressed: Separation of liquid mixtures, frequently by distillation, consumes large amounts of energy in the chemical and process industries. Moreover, some systems form a thermodynamic azeotrope which makes separation to high purity via distillation impossible with the use of additives or other costly process changes.
 
Potential Impact: The basis of the separation is straightforward; when ultrasound passes through a nominally quiescent liquid with a free surface above, droplets are produced from a mist. Work at UIUC and elsewhere, shows that in aqueous ethanol solutions, removal of these droplets using a carrier-gas flow provides a liquid in which EtOH is significantly enriched relative to the bulk solution. Successful deployment of this technology could result in significant savings in energy and capital costs for this high-volume separation, and will lay the groundwork for similar separations in a broad class of other binary (and probably multi-component) systems, including those forming azeotropes.
 

(4) On Demand Treatment of Wastewater Using 3D Printed Membranes

Partner Organizations – University of Pittsburgh, Lubrizol, Siemens
 
Project Summary: This project will demonstrate on demand separation of multicomponent and multiphase water oil mixtures using 3D-printed membranes.
 
Challenge Addressed: Wastewater treatment often involves many steps and can be energy intensive – an area called out in RAPID technology roadmapping efforts. This proposal works to develop an intensified process, enabled by a single multiselectivity membrane that is capable of reaching RAPID Institute goals around energy efficiency.
 
Potential Impact: This project will demonstrate the application of multiselectivity membranes that utilize surface selectivity and topology rather than pressure to effect separations. The results will be a first-of-its-kind demonstration of the validity of the above mentioned concept for the chemical industry pursuing a novel approach where the membrane is fabricated with a 3D-printer so that desired membrane material, impregnated material, pore size and pore topography can be utilized in different zones of the same membrane.

 

(5) Modular Mechanical Vapor Compression Membrane Distillation (MVC-MD) for Treatment of High TDS-Produced Water

Partner Organizations – Texas Tech University, University of Arkansas, Apache, W.L. Gore
 
Project Summary: This projects aims to integrate mechanical vapor compression (MVC) with membrane distillation (MVC-MD) to intensify the treatment process for produced water from hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and gas.
 
Challenge Addressed: The emerging technology of membrane distillation is known to offer a viable pathway to treat concentrated brine streams with high total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations (TDS>100,000). However, this comes at the cost of significant energy intensity and potential concerns about fouling in MD systems.
 
Potential Impacts: This project will not look to improve MD membranes but will instead focus on novel electrocoagulation pretreatment and improved stack/system designs. The net results will be a MVC-MD system that is intrinsically more energy-efficient, smaller, and more flexible to serve a wide range of needs.
 

(6) Deploying Intensified, Automated, Mobile, Operable, and Novel Designs "DIAMOND" For Treating Shale Gas Wastewater

Partner Organizations – Texas A&M University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas at Austin, U.S. Clean Water Technology
 
Project Summary: This project is focused on developing integrated design and operating approaches for modular systems that can be deployed in the treatment of flowback and produced water resulting from shale gas production.
 
Challenges Addressed: The highly distributed nature and variable characteristics of shale-gas wastewater (SGWW), provides a unique opportunity to deploy modular systems. However, there is a major challenge in overcoming the costs associated with developing tailored designs for each source of wastewater. This is a specific example of a key technology gap identified in the RAPID roadmap.- the need for design tools and practices that would reduce the need for non-recurring engineering design costs modular applications.
 
Potential Impacts: A combination of systems engineering approaches and experimental/pilot-scale work will be used to generate commercially viable design and operational strategies. This integrated theoretical-experimental project will: (1) Assess, screen and integrate commercially-viable conventional and emerging technologies for wastewater treatment, (2) Develop computer-aided modeling, design, operation, scheduling, and costing approaches for non-recurring engineering needed to deploy the SGWW treatment systems, and (3) Demonstrate proof-of-concept via applications to a broad range of SGWW samples.

 

EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

 

(7) Modular Chemical Process Intensification (MCPI) Boot Camp at the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute

Partner Organization – Oregon State University
 
Project Summary: Oregon State will develop a 4-day “boot camp” for professional engineers interested in advancing MCPI in the chemical industry.
 
Challenge Addressed: The boot camp is designed to expand engineers’ understanding of and appreciation for the value of MCPI for use within their companies. The course will present the fundamentals of PI and align it with practical, real world applications.
 
Potential Impact: By demonstrating how PI can help advance module manufacturing through better economics due to size and weight reduction of components, engineers will receive actionable insights enabling implementation of MCPI in their organizations. A pilot offering of the course is targeted for summer 2019.

 

(8) RAPID Integrated Course: Emerging Membrane Processes for Water Purification

Partner Organization – University of Arizona with support from Chemstations
 
Project Summary: The University of Arizona will develop a 4-day face-to-face course enabling both professional engineers and graduate students to compare and contrast the uses of conventional membrane processes over emerging membrane processes in order to purify water.
 
Challenge Addressed: Understanding the pros and cons of current and emerging membrane technologies in wastewater treatment provides participants with both a theoretical and practical understanding of which technology is most cost and energy efficient for process and/or purpose.
 
Potential Impacts: In this project-based course, attendees will brainstorm a treatment process, design and perform experiments while testing their hypotheses in a state-of-the-art pilot scale wastewater treatment facility, model the process using simulation software by Chemstations, update their hypotheses per data results, and establish the practical viability of their hypotheses using available software. A pilot offering of the course is targeted for fall 2019.
 
For more information about the RAPID Manufacturing Institute, contact us at rapid@aiche.org