Chemical reactors have traditionally been designed to take advantage of economies of scale, which dictates that material costs typically decrease on a per-volume basis as the reactor is scaled up. In the April AIChE Journal Perspective article, “Manufactured Chemistry: Rethinking Unit Operation Design in the Age of Additive Manufacturing,” Addison Stark of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) challenges this “bigger is always better” mantra.
There is mounting evidence that at extremely large scales, costs begin to increase on a per-volume basis. For example, says Stark, a large chemical plant may require more skilled laborers than the region can supply, or more raw materials (such as steel) than can be readily dispatched, which increase capital costs. Historical data for the installed cost of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant are plotted in Figure 1. At large scales (>10,000 bpd, circled), the realized final plant cost is greater than that predicted by scaling alone.
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