Sustainability in the Chemical and Process Industries

pillars of sustainabilitySustainable engineering along with process safety is one of the technical tracks in this year’s upcoming Spring meeting of the American Society of Chemical Engineers – March 26-30 San Antonio, TX. The forum covers a range of process design topics, presentations and discussions around environmental initiatives for air, water and soil protection. So, what is sustainability and what are chemical engineers doing about it?

Andrew Beattie wrote ”Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. There are three main pillars: economic, environmental and social. These three pillars are informally referred to as people, planet and profits. Oct 5, 2015 – Investopedia.” Many organizations consider sustainable practices those that support these pillars. These organizations address sustainability across various disciplines and functions and take a system view of all compelling factors.

Engineers involved in all three pillars that support sustainability. The connection to creating new products as related to the environment is most obvious. However, sustainable practices also have economic impact. For example, consider improvements in lighter packaging which leads to reduction on material used, the weight and related transportation costs. Another example is reduction and reuse of waste heat which reduces the cost of process heating in the process industry plants.

An inventory of sustainable application areas where chemical engineers are working on includes:

  • Energy and power– reduce the emission and carbon footprint of fossil fuel production, processing and refining, coal to liquid, gasification, biomass and biofuel, solar power efficiency, and lighter more durable wind turbines, fuel cell and nuclear energy
  • Transportation – Performance fuels and lubricants with fewer hazardous pollutants, fuel cell, and battery powered vehicles, lighter more durable material to increase both fuel efficacy and safety
  • Water and wastewater – treating water for human and industrial use – leading to reduced water consumption and by increasing recycling means.
  • Green manufacturing – Reducing and capturing validate, and greenhouse gases from many process streams, increasing energy intensity and thus reduce energy usage both as energy source of operation and use as feedstocks.
  • Human health – advances in biomedical, pharmaceuticals and biotech to achieve better patient care, tissue engineering, and new exploration on drug delivery and cancer treatments.
  • Consumer goods – Probably most consequential are the amazing pace of developing electronic devices by increasing the power density of semiconductors chips, sensors and communication electronics.
  • Food and agriculture – Increase safety of food processing, taste, look and packaging of food products, water, crop and soil management of ever reducing farm lands.
  • Advanced material – shape changing(Smart) and multifunctional polymers/material, shape shifting Nano-particles, Nano fibers for advanced separation

Sustainability requirements add an additional dimension of complexity to product design. For example, the selection of raw materials and how they are produced and processed, reducing waste in the entire production and distribution process, use of recycled material, energy efficient processes, emission and water use reduction strategies, thermal management and the development of new ways to develop, manufacture and use resources.

At ANSYS, we witness how organizations and engineers are striving to meet these demands. It is exciting to see new breakthroughs and contribute to product and process design changes contributing to sustainable practices.

Next week at the AICHE Spring Meeting, my colleague Anchal Jatale of ANSYS will be presenting how engineering simulation can be used to help predict the cause of performance degradation and failure of heat exchangers. Heat exchangers are commonly used in the material and process industries, and every year millions of dollars are spent globally for their maintenance and troubleshooting.

Engineering simulation can be a cost-effective approach to determine the causes and location of the failures, and help mitigate and monitor their health. The ANSYS solutions used to perform this study include modeling fouling, corrosion, erosion, fatigue, buckling, etc. These and other related capabilities are used in the design and development of many sustainable product and processes. Specifically, generalized electrochemistry, reaction, separation, and multiphase flows modeling are used for example in water and waste-water, fuel cell, Co2 separation capture, and energy storage and battery modeling.

Contours of concentration of Calcium Carbonate Fouling in a heat exchanger as a function of flow rate. Red indicates the highest area of fouling. (Three flow rates slowest on top, fastest on the bottom).

So, what are chemical and process engineers are doing about sustainability! It does appear that they are doing a lot to help to meet the economic, environmental and social aspects through more cost-effective product design processes that meet many companies’ profitability goals while maintaining product quality, and meet process safety requirements.

To learn more about ANSYS solutions visit Material and Chemical Industry pages, and to find other applications of engineering simulation related to breakthrough energy innovation through ANSYS simulation download the ANSYS Advantage Magazine and Subscribe to receive notice of future issues.