To form a special oil-coated nickel catalyst, a special pastillation system is used — a technology first developed for the solidification of sulphur in oil and gas refineries, but also used extensively in food and chemical processing.
Ten years ago, Indian chemical company Monarch Catalyst Pvt. Ltd. was still, in the words of managing director Hitesh Vadalia, “a relative newcomer” to the manufacture of silica-supported nickel catalysts for oils and oleochemicals. True, the company had been in existence since the early 1970s, and in 1989 it became the first in India to develop dry-reduced technology for this application. However, Monarch remained essentially a local operation, serving home markets.
Yet a decade on, Monarch exports to customers across Asia, Europe and North America, and is now the world’s third-largest manufacturer of silica-supported nickel catalyst. The company operates from a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the rapidly growing industrial city of Dombivli, 50 km from Mumbai. In 2002 the company expanded its catalyst portfolio by acquiring Kallin Intermediate. According to their own statements, today, Monarch is the only catalyst company in the world authorized to extract and recycle nickel salts from spent catalysts.
And Monarch isn’t finished yet. “In 2005 our share of the nickel catalyst market was in the region of 6–7%,” says Vadalia. “In the five years since then we’ve grown this by a factor of three and our aim now is be world number two by the end of next year.”
Vadalia attributes this growth to a focus on strategic partnerships. This culture has led to some of the best-known names in the oils and fats, pharmaceutical and chemical industries signing major deals with Monarch, as well as the establishment of long-term relationships with a number of key suppliers. And at the heart of Monarch’s rise to prominence — from a technical point of view — has been a ten-year relationship with Sandvik Process Systems.
Strategic Partnership With Sandvik
The roots of this partnership stem back to 2000 when, in what was to prove a landmark moment in Monarch’s transformation from national to global force, the company’s management team decided to upgrade its production process.
Nickel is used as a catalyst in the hydrogenation of edible oils to produce fats such as margarine and shortening. It is also used to stabilize oils used in the manufacture of surfactants and tires.
Silica-supported nickel catalyst consists of nano-size nickel metal supported on a silica matrix. The very fine nickel particles are pyrophoric — they ignite spontaneously on contact with air — so the catalyst has to be coated to protect it from the atmosphere. The material used for this is hydrogenated edible oil which, being solid at room temperature, also helps in handling.
Previously, Monarch had formed the oil-coated catalyst into small flakes. The problem with this form is a propensity to create dust. Some nickel compounds are toxic, so as well as making the catalyst more difficult to handle, the dust is hazardous to health.
After investigating a number of alternative solutions, Monarch decided on Sandvik’s Rotoform pastillation system, a technology first developed for the solidification of sulfur in oil and gas refineries but also used extensively in food and chemical processing.
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