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Flexible Chemical Production by Modularization How to Build Innovative Hydrogenation Plants

When it comes to the construction of hydrogenation plants there are a few factors to consider – especially when the preferred system should be modular. Only true experts with a lot of experience are able to design and construct such customized systems.

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EKATO Hydrogenation Test Center
EKATO Hydrogenation Test Center
(Source: Ekato)

The process of hydrogenation is a chemical reaction type with gaseous hydrogen as a reaction partner.

Hydrogenations are generally carried out as heterogeneously catalyzed processes. Hydrogen is dispersed into fine bubbles in order to be dissolved in a liquid. The conversion of the dissolved hydrogen will then take place on the surface of a solid catalyst particle. Commonly used catalysts are palladium on activated carbon (alternatively platinum, rhodium, ruthenium or cobalt) and Raney nickel.

The generally low solubility of hydrogen in liquids can be improved by operating the hydrogenation reactor at increased pressure levels between 6 bar and up to 150 bar. The operating temperature of a hydrogenation reactor is typically in the range of 80°C to 200°C.

Hydrogenation processes and the hydrogenation reactor

Hydrogenation is part of many synthesis steps in the production of specialty and mass chemicals, pharmaceutical active ingredients or raw materials for the food and cosmetics industry. The mechanisms and thermodynamics of hydrogenation of common molecular components such as multiple bonds, nitro or carbonyl groups, etc. are usually known. When choosing suitable catalysts and operating conditions, these often highly exothermic reactions usually also have very high speeds.

Stirred hydrogenation reactors are often applied in the laboratory for the development of hydrogenation processes and are therefore always the first choice in production, too. There is almost no technological risk in the transfer of scale from agitated lab reactors to agitated production reactors.

The Ekato Combined Gassing System guarantees an extremely high mass transfer of the gaseous hydrogen into the liquid phase. In the bottom of the hydrogenation reactor, the fresh gas is fed directly into the Ekato Phasejet. This high-performance impeller disperses the fed hydrogen into very fine gas bubbles and thus creates an extremely large interface area between gas and liquid. The Ekato Gasjet, a self-aspirating turbine permanently redisperses non-converted gas from the head space of the reactor back into the liquid through a hollow shaft. This ensures that sufficient amounts of dissolved hydrogen are always available to the chemical reaction and that the hydrogenation can always take place under ideal conditions.

As a manufacturing company with its own resources in the engineering, design, and production of process equipment, Ekato differs considerably from classical engineering contractors. Ekato not only dimensions hydrogenation reactors but also mechanically analyzes them in detail and releases them for production only after a computer-aided, mechanical assessment using FEA.

The reactor and plant equipment developed by Ekato set technological standards and are always individually tailored to the requirements and processes of the customer. They are also robust, reliable, and ideally suited for use in chemical plants.

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The expertise

When it comes to the design and construction of hydrogenation plants, then Ekato is the expert with more than 85 years of experience in the field of mixing technology. As a technology supplier, Ekato assumes overall responsibility for all phases of the project – from the initial idea to commissioning. As a system provider, Ekato ensures that not only the hydrogenation reactor, but also the entire hydrogenation plant is optimally tailored to the respective customer and process requirements. Ekato has plant and safety concepts for hydrogenation systems in a wide range of industrial applications: From the chemical industry to hydrogenation plants in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Skid-mounted hydrogenation plants

Innovative production assets need to be as flexible as possible. A promising concept to improve competiveness and flexibility of hydrogenation plants at the same time, especially for small to medium scale production, are skid-mounted production plant concepts.

Skid-mounted hydrogenation plants offer certain advantages over conventional on-site construction. The main advantages of skid-mounted hydrogenation plants are:

  • single point-responsibility at Ekato
  • shorter project implementation times
  • low overall investment costs
  • no interruption to existing operations (in case of plant expansion or modification)
  • assembly of skids under workshop conditions at Ekato’s assembly facilities
  • full functional test prior to delivery

Ekato’s skid-mounted hydrogenation modules comprise

  • steel structure
  • hydrogenation reactor
  • piping and valves
  • instrumentation
  • cabling and junctions boxes
  • insulation
  • control system (located in safe area)

Ekato has acquired specific expertise over the past few decades by supplying more than 500 hydrogenation projects in Europe, Asia, and the US. Skids are assembled in our own modern, purpose-built assembly facilities or at selected, certified sub-contractors.

Typical skid-mounted hydrogenation modules made by Ekato range from reactor sizes of 50 l to 6000 l useful volume. Larger plants consist of more than one module and comprise also a catalyst preparation skid, a catalyst filtration skid, heating/cooling station and a scrubber system.

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