Modular Construction Modular Construction Can Help Small-Scale Plants Compete

Modular construction is well suited to building small-scale chemical plants, and it can play a significant role in making small, regional plants cost-competitive with megascale plants, in certain strategic locations, according to a presentation by Tom Schafer, vice president of Koch Modular Process Systems LLC (KMPS) at Achema.

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Koch Modular Process Systems VP Tom Schafer discusses the advantages of modular construction.
Koch Modular Process Systems VP Tom Schafer discusses the advantages of modular construction.
(Source: Jenkins/Chemical Engineering)

Schafer pointed out that while economies of scale have been the driver of megascale plant economics in most cases, a small-scale plant constructed in a modular manner can realize 25-30% cost savings compared to a plant constructed conventionally. If that plant is located close to a raw materials source and close to customer sites, the plant economics can match that of a megascale project.

Modular construction is largely done indoors and in a horizontal orientation, so weather is not a factor, and the need for climbing is limited, Schafer said. In most cases, modular projects are completed with lump-sum, fixed-price contracts, which can be an advantage to payers. In his presentation, Schafer mentioned two examples of modularly constructed projects in which his company was involved. One is a 160 tons per day demonstration-scale plant for making methanol from natural gas.

The plant is located in the northeast of the U.S., nearby a raw materials source in the Marcellus shale deposit, so the transport costs are lower. The other is a plant with easy access to bio-based ethanol that is converting that material to ethylene oxide. Later on Thursday, Schafer's KMPS colleague Don Glatz, manager of extraction technology at the company, spoke about a method his company has developed for pilot-plant testing of liquid-liquid extraction columns.

The method begins with determination of laboratory equilibrium data for the liquid-liquid extraction. The method is designed as a step-by-step optimization process for the pilot plant, so that data can be gathered quickly on fluid interface behavior, possible entrainment mechanisms and potential for column flooding. The information can then be used for scaling up the process.

Koch Modular Process Systems, Hall 4.0, Stand D1