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Opportunities for flexibility in the chemical processes

11 Sep 2015

There are the two things necessary to introduce flexibility in the chemicals industry through innovative process technologies: self-belief and a cohesive vision. This was the conclusion reached by participants of a side event that took place at ACHEMA – the World Forum for chemical engineering and the process industries. Right now, TNO is working on projects in which business economists share the table with process technologists and chemists.

An overview of flexible chemical industry

In June of this year, TNO participated in ACHEMA, a triennial world forum for experts in the field of chemical engineering and process industries. This year more than 166,000 participants from 110 countries met together in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. On the evening of 17 June Topsector Chemie, VNCI, NFIA, Flanders Innovation Hub for Sustainable Chemistry (FISCH), Britest, and TNO organized a side event at an external location for invited guests. A select company of international experts in the chemicals industry and supply sector met to discuss the introduction of flexibility with the aid of innovative process technologies.

New business cases

TNO has already made advancements in the flexibility of the chemicals industry. “Over the past four years we have carried out projects in the field of feedstock flexibility, efficient processing, and improved product functionality in both bilateral relations and in a public-private partnership, such as within the European CONSENS consortium”, explains its business development manager Martijn de Graaff. “What we often run up against in many of these projects is a non-technological hurdle. We discussed this at length at ACHEMA. Business managers with faith in technological progress seek support in order to get business cases of the ground. Certainly in large companies you need self-belief as well as a cohesive vision. With self-belief alone, you still need to convince yourself, the board, or investors with a financially cohesive vision. But then you also need the tools at hand to create this cohesive vision for a relatively unknown technology.”

Learning from each other

The solution was found in a different part of TNO: Strategic Business Analysis. De Graaff: “We brought this group’s consultants – together with their technical colleagues and partners – in contact with market parties already convinced of the technology. Diversity is important here, so we identify the differences between small-scale and large-scale engineering and look at the impact on chemical companies from both the commodities sector and high added-value sector. We can all learn from the parallels. Process intensification and continuous processing enable flexible modular processing, but as yet they remain enabling technologies. In whatever situation you choose you still need to think what exactly it means to alter such a situation and what effect this will have on your cash flow. Through other sectors, our Strategic Business Analysis team is used to answering these questions.”

Interested in sharing the benefits?

TNO has meanwhile continued its projects to make the chemical industry flexible. This is described in more detail in the white paper ‘Small-Scale Flexible Plants: Towards a More Agile and Competitive EU Chemical Industry’. De Graaff looks forward to having contact with businesses who also wish to join in. “I heartily welcome parties that are interested in our projects to get in contact. They can then get involved in a project as a partner, or become a member of the industrial advisory group.”

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