Signs of Life from the Lab: How Innovative is the Process Industry?

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“Substantial improvements which enhance sustainability and reduce resource consumption can only be achieved by the introduction of totally new technologies,” reported Dr. Hanns- Ingolf Paul, head of Butyl Rubber Global Technology at Lanxess. A completely new process involving lean production stages and relatively modest investment costs was the only pathway to a genuine breakthrough.

The success in finding a solution is partly due to the partners who worked alongside of Lanxess at the Intek Competence Center. Bayer Technology Services was on board, contributing its expertise in plant engineering and large-scale process technology. The Universities of Bonn and Dortmund carried out vital basic research on the chemistry and mechanical process engineering aspects. All together, more than 100 improvement recommendations and 15 process options were reviewed and evaluated.


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A Totally New Process

The outcome was a totally new low-cost process, in which a new type of polymerization reactor plays an important role: Its large surface/volume ratio and the continuous renewal of the polymer layer at the reactor wall ensure optimum heat transfer. By using cooling tubes which are only 50–100 millimeters in diameter along with special agitator systems, reactors volume of 30–50 m3 are possible.

A steam strip process is sufficient to remove the solvent from the rubber. Degassing is performed mechanically at an extruder worm. The company claims that the new process cut steam consumption by 50 % throughout the entire sequence from polymerization to the finished product. Particularly in finishing, steam consumption has been reduced by more than 70 %, with direct impact on energy usage and emissions levels. A 40 % reduction in CO2 emissions and roughly a 37 % reduction in electricity consumption are figures that speak for themselves.

Nothing but Hot Air?

So what about sustainability which is such a big issue at the moment? Everyone, from discounters to car makers, extols their commitment to the planet, but a closer look often reveals nothing but hot air. Eco-friendly technology can nevertheless make good business sense. Companies that cut their “climate-killer” gas emissions can trade unused emissions certificates for hard cash. The whole thing is a worthwhile exercise if harmful emissions can be replaced with less harmful ones. Emissions of substances like laughing gas are one example: Its greenhouse effect is 300 times more potent than that of CO2. Companies which reduce their laughing gas emissions can cash in their unused emission certificates.

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