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The advantages of a deeper understanding of chemical processes

27 Sep 2014

A deeper understanding of chemical processes: that is the result of modelling flow, chemical interactions and thermodynamic systems. TNO's modelling expertise helps companies to gain a better understanding of their existing but complex processes, enabling them to optimize their resource efficiency, cost performance and process safety in a much more targeted way.

'A whole host of chemical plants have had systems in place for decades where all sorts of reactions and conversions take place', points out TNO's Jan Willem Slijkoord. 'At lots of plants chemical technologists and engineers come up with modifications to make the processes even more efficient on site, by trial and error. In spite of their pooled experience, the processes are not always fully understood. There might still be room for improvement within the process window, for instance in areas such as process safety, maintenance costs, integrity of apparatus, down time and residual waste. On top of this, not every operator is in the habit of reporting properly on perceived efficiency measures, or has time to do so. So the learning potential in a production facility is not always optimal.'

Describing reality

'Chemical processes are often particularly complex. You can't always see precisely what's going on. That's why modelling is very instructive', opines Slijkoord. 'But it must be done in close consultation with process technologists, as they know the processes best. If you have a model that describes the process correctly you can also change process conditions and see how the model reacts to those changes. You can then make much more targeted modifications to the actual process so as to achieve the desired improvement. Based on our physical and chemical expertise and knowledge of modelling, we at TNO are able to modify commercial software packages with plug-ins that we've developed ourselves, thus producing unique models to describe a specific process or part of a process at a chemical plant. We examine how well the model describes the reality in consultation with the process technologists.'

Joint process

'We study flow, temperature, the impact of particles, phase transitions, and so on. We look at all the ins and outs of the process, including things that are not really working properly. With its statutory independence TNO is an ideal partner for sharing this kind of confidential information, as we are not in any way involved in the existing business. It's a super-interactive process between the TNO specialists and the process technologists, involving first analysing the problem, then developing a model and regularly showing where the process is and is not working. Then we make the model work. Only when the customer confirms that it gives a correct description of reality do we start talking about specific changes that could produce the desired improvements. What excites us is interacting with the customer and eventually coming up with results that he is satisfied with.'

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Ir. Jan Willem Slijkoord

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Ir. Jan Willem Slijkoord

  • Sustainability
  • Polymers
  • Recycling
  • Brightlands Material Center
  • Shared Research Innovation
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