Software Improves Styrene Production

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Sterling Chemicals Holding Inc. produces petrochemicals, acrylic fibers and pulp chemicals, and provides large-scale chlorine dioxide generators to the pulp and paper industry. Its primary petrochemical facility in Texas City, Texas, produces styrene, acrylonitrile, acetic acid, plasticizers, methanol and sodium cyanide.

Like many other styrene producers, Sterling Chemicals wanted to better understand and monitor the variables that influence catalyst degradation, yield and selectivity. Empowered with that information, the company could maximize its investment and better manage its styrene production operations. Sterling Chemicals turned to CRI Catalyst Co., Houston, and Pavilion Technologies, Austin, Texas, for a solution. CRI is a catalyst supplier to the Texas City site, providing market access and validation, catalyst performance knowledge (metrics, historical performance data) and technical support.

A need for real-time insight

Analyzing a reactor's performance is a time-consuming and elaborate process. It involves difficult reactor sampling and complex laboratory analysis, making it uneconomical and impractical to perform more than two or three times a month. Those limitations can create "blind spots" for managers and operators tasked with making minute-to-minute decisions that influence millions of dollars in product and profit.

By eliminating those blind spots, Sterling Chemicals hoped its operators could be even more proactive about avoiding problems and boosting production to meet performance goals.

An innovative solution

The solution ," the CATSCAN catalyst performance modeling system ," was developed and is maintained by CRI Catalyst and Pavilion. CATSCAN combines CRI's catalyst expertise with Pavilion's advanced predictive modeling software to improve operational performance, enhance catalyst life and reduce production costs for styrene manufacturers. The system provides Sterling Chemicals with the tools it needs to understand how key variables affect reactor performance and catalyst life. CATSCAN provides key catalyst performance indicators, software modeling tools to simulate the results of decisions before they are made, and a predictive dashboard that simulates catalyst life.

Rapid implementation

Working with Pavilion and CRI, Sterling Chemicals implemented the CRI CATSCAN system to monitor and model the performance of two reactors.

A PC loaded with CATSCAN software was shipped to Sterling Chemicals preconfigured to the company's plant environment. The only setup required was that to establish communication between the PC and the plant historian. Once communication was established, the CATSCAN system was ready to monitor the reactor. The on-site setup process took less than four hours.

"CATSCAN has been a key performance management tool for our company since installation," says Dennis Yieh, process control technologist at Sterling Chemicals' Texas City facility.

"It helps us improve operating decisions and better understand the effect of key variables on catalyst performance."

Dramatic results

After 10 months of using the CATSCAN system, Sterling Chemicals predicts the following benefits for the total life of the catalyst:

A three percent to five percent production yield increase.

A four-month increase in catalyst life.

A 50 percent improvement in the speed of catalyst problem detection.

"Finding the optimal reactor operating conditions to adjust to new production requirements has definitely become easier and quicker," adds Yieh. "Traditionally, this exercise could take days, but now different scenarios can be analyzed and decisions made within hours."

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