Buckytubes Might Be Answer to Equipment Woes
HOUSTON ," Wish your plant's equipment lasted longer? Better withstood heat? You soon might be granted these wishes and more when advanced polymer products begin making their way into pumps, valves, compressors and other equipment essential to the chemical processing industry.
Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc., Houston, and Paris-based Performance Plastics Products Inc. (3P) announced a joint agreement under which they plan to develop and commercialize new polymer products and equipment for use in industries needing higher temperature, chemical and corrosion resistance, increased pressure capabilities, and longer wear. The products will incorporate single-wall carbon nanotubes, also known as Buckytubes, which are 100 times stronger than steel yet weigh much less. This cylindrical polymer of pure carbon, said the companies, conducts electricity like a metal and conducts heat better than diamond.
Carbon Nanotechnologies hopes to be the first to commercialize the carbon nanotubes, which were discovered in the early 1990s, said David Karohl, the company's director of business development. "We believe we're in a very solid position in terms of scaling up production so that we'll be able to build a commercial plant in the very near future," he said. "It's a brand new material, a brand new polymer ," some development needs to be done to incorporate it into products."
Carbon nanotubes are the "strongest, stiffest, toughest materials in existence," contended Karohl. "They are electrically conductive ," highly conductive ," and they're thermally highly conductive. So when you blend them with other polymers, you can produce a composite of polymer blends that has significantly improved performance characteristics."
Buckytubes also boast a very high glass transition temperature, noted Karohl. "The higher the glass transition temperature of a material, the higher the temperature it can operate in," he explained. "That's very important whenever you have friction, like in reciprocating compressors or valves or things like that ," equipment in the chemical processing industry. The more heat that builds up, the more damage that could happen and the shorter the lifetime of the gasket or the seal or the valve. So if you could increase the time between maintenance, that would be very valuable."
3P, a manufacturer of engineered high-performance plastic products, will produce and commercialize new products incorporating Carbon Nanotechnologies' materials.
"We're in the business of making primarily fluoropolymer parts for pumps, valves, compressors, etc.," explained Bob Richter, director of innovation and development for 3P's U.S. operations in Houston. "We've been told that the carbon nanotubes have rather significant physical effects on components."
According to Richter, the companies are targeting three areas for development: increased conductivity, increased wear and decreased co-efficient of friction. However, he stressed that everything is "very experimental" at this point. "We're going to be doing a lot of testing," he said, "to be sure that if we change one thing, we don't change another."
With the European market beginning to require a "certain amount of conductivity" in products to discharge static buildup, the conductivity area seemed like a logical starting point for 3P. Venture partners hope to commercialize new high-conductivity products within the fourth quarter of this year, noted Richter.
Natural Gas Issue Escalates in Congress
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan commented at a May meeting of the Joint Economic Committee that he was "surprised at how little attention the natural gas problem has been getting." But a handful of industry groups has banded together to voice concerns and ensure the U.S. Congress gives the issue due notice.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, The Fertilizer Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently issued a joint letter, spelling out the effects of the mandates in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to increase industry's use of natural gas. Greater reliance on natural gas for meeting the nation's energy needs has meant demand outstrips supply, driving up prices to alarming rates, the letter stated.
Tom Gilroy, an ACC spokesman, said the crisis became the association's number-one issue in February when natural gas prices closed one day at $19 per million Btu. Prices were in the $1.80-to-$2.50 per million Btu range in the 1990s. "We aren't competitive at that price," he said. "We've become the high-priced producer of chemicals because of what's happened to natural gas."
Whereas chemical companies in most other parts of the world run primarily on oil ," a global commodity with a price that is basically the same for all ," U.S. chemical companies operate mostly on natural gas, a national commodity that has been critically short in supply. Gilroy and others contend that U.S. companies' reliance on this higher-priced energy source has cost jobs and resulted in plant shutdowns and higher consumer costs.
Keith McCoy, NAM's director of environmental quality, said that gas prices, which have skyrocketed 129 percent since last year, have caused considerable concern. "We're stressing to Congress [the need] for a reliable and consistent and affordable supply of natural gas," he said.
In July, Greenspan testified before the House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce: "If North American natural gas markets are to function with the flexibility exhibited by oil," he said, "unlimited access to the vast world reserves of gas is required." To balance supply and demand and reduce price volatility, he recommended expanding this country's capacity to import liquefied natural gas, essentially making gas a worldwide commodity.
"Congress has to make tough choices and remove those artificial barriers to new gas supplies on-and offshore," Gilroy said, referring in part to an untapped federal inventory of gas resources that may be as much as 40 percent of the overall U.S. supply. "In the meantime, no matter what Congress does or what we do, we realize we're in for a rocky road."
Companies To Commercialize Fuel Desulfurization Process
THE WOODLANDS, Texas ," Howe-Baker Engineers, a Tyler, Texas-based subsidiary of Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., N.V. (CB&I) said it has entered into an agreement with Houston-based UniPure Corp. to market UniPure's Advanced Sulfur Removal (ASR) process. The ASR process would enable refiners and fuel product marketers to meet legislated ultra-low sulfur levels for diesel fuels, gasoline and other products.
The ASR process does not require hydrogen, said the companies, a differentiator that could make it less costly than other sulfur-removal technologies. In addition, the process could be used to build stand-alone plants to remediate fuels contacted by higher-sulfur products.
"It's a cost as well as an infrastructure advantage," explained Buzz Barlow, vice president of commercial development for UniPure. "If you build a hydrotreater, which is a normal route to removing sulfur, you have to have a source of hydrogen. The amount of hydrogen consumed in these units is not just proportional to the amount of sulfur because the operating conditions do a lot of other things to change the characteristics of the fuel."
Low temperature, pressure
Based on oxidation chemistry, the ASR process operates at low temperatures and pressures ," about 200 Degrees F and 30 psi, noted Barlow. In addition, the process requires just five to 10 minutes of residence time.
The fuel to be desulfurized is placed into the reactor with an aqueous oxidant strain consisting mainly of formic acid, said Barlow, with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide and water. After the sulfur is oxidized into sulfones within the reactor, he said, process components separate the aqueous strain from the hydrocarbons in a gravity-phase separator and then pass the oxidized fuel over a solid alumina adsorption system. These final steps remove the sulfones.
UniPure has produced diesel fuel with a sulfur content of less than 0.5 parts per million.
An ASR demonstration plant, fabricated by Howe-Baker, was installed in May at Valero Energy Corp.'s Krotz Springs, La., refinery. According to Barlow, Valero is "very interested" in the process for places without hydrogen or hydrotreater infrastructures.
The simplicity of the ASR process should allow the companies to take it straight from the demonstration level to commercial design by this fall. "It doesn't have any catalysts associated with it; it's not a fluidized bed; there's no tricky fluid mechanics that you're going to have to resolve," stressed Barlow. "It's a fairly straightforward, simple process."
Based on oxidation chemistry, the ASR process operates at low temperatures and pressures.
"We are pleased to be working with UniPure to bring this new technology to market," said James R. McAdory III, president and CEO of Howe-Baker. "We are confident this plant will demonstrate that the ASR process offers the refining, pipeline and terminal industries significant commercial and operational benefits to meet existing and future clean fuels regulations."
AMT: U.S. Manufacturing Needs a Boost To Retain Its Edge
WASHINGTON ," In testimony before the U.S. House Science Committee last month, Lawrence J. Rhoades, chairman of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), said America is well on its way to losing its productivity advantage in manufacturing.
Emerging industrial nations enjoy low-cost labor forces and are making massive new investments in plants, noted Rhoades. In the past 25 years, he said, 1.5 billion workers have entered the global market from Brazil, Eastern Europe, India and China.
The United States transformed agriculture from a highly labor-intensive activity into a highly automated process and could do the same for manufacturing, said Rhoades. To do so would require "a coordinated national program sized sufficiently to provide a manufacturing technology infrastructure," he added.
Calling for increased government funding for innovative technology, Rhoades pushed for continued funding for the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program and Manufacturing Extension Partnerships. He also supported extending collaborative R&D efforts such as the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences.
Security Summit Speakers Commend Industry Efforts
PHILADELPHIA ," Speakers at the chemical industry's first Security Summit, co-hosted last month by the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), commended the chemical industry for security measures already taken under the Responsible Care initiative while stressing the importance of further security efforts.
"We live in a target-rich society and must build on our strengths just as terrorists build on weaknesses," said the U.S. Secret Service's Zachary Ainsworth in an address to 330 attendees representing government and industry. "The most important role chemical industry employees and local and state authorities play is in the protection of their facilities in the event of a terrorist threat."
According to SOCMA, Ainsworth emphasized the importance of open sources, as well as the need to further develop and exploit information sharing. Personal relationships need to be developed between state and local law officials, he added, emphasizing that "the price is too high to ignore suspicious activity."
Sally Canfield, the Department of Homeland Security's deputy chief of staff for policy, complimented the chemical industry's pre- September 11 security efforts and cited the industry's revised Responsible Care program as an excellent model for those attempting to identify and rectify security vulnerabilities. Canfield urged chemical industry attendees to consider any security system as a work in progress, said SOCMA, instead of a one-time action.
"No one can say: "We've done our due diligence; we can sit back now," said Canfield. "To improve homeland security, it will take a unified national effort, a public,"private partnership beyond any we've seen in recent history. Industry and government will not be able to successfully improve security if we are not communicating and cooperating."
James Gilmore, chairman of a federal advisory panel on security know as the Gilmore Commission, said he supports a provision in proposed chemical security legislation that would grant chemical facility oversight to the Department of Homeland Security instead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"My view is that the right to regulate belongs [to] the Department of Homeland Security, not to the EPA," said Gilmore. "EPA is designed for safety, environment and workplace purposes, but this is a different situation. So much is at stake."
No matter what agency ultimately is given the responsibility for security-related chemical facility oversight, the chemical industry should expect to continue its security efforts well into the future.
SOCMA President Joseph Acker said the industry has accomplished much to beef up security, but still must do more. "Our industry has taken proactive measures to augment existing safety and security practices, such as incorporating new security practices into our industry's Responsible Care program, but the game has changed since September 11," he stressed. "We have a responsibility and a duty to manage our products and processes with this new awareness."
CIDX Security Guide is Now Online
ALEXANDRIA, Va. ," The Chemical Industry Data Exchange's (CIDX) "Guidance for Directing Cybersecurity in the Chemical Sector Version 1.0," now is available online.
The 46-page document, said CIDX, "is intended to stimulate thinking among companies implementing security management practices throughout digital systems and, as a result, addresses both process control and information technology systems." To download, visit www.CIDX.org.
Growth for Gases
Global Market Demand for Industrial Gases (in millions of dollars)
The global market for industrial gases is expected to reach almost $52 billion by 2008, growing at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent. The growth largely will be spurred by the manufacturing sector's rising use of industrial gases to produce environmentally cleaner products and to upgrade increasing supplies of heavy crude oil.Source: "RC-237 World Industrial Gas Business," Business Communications Co. Inc., Norwalk, Conn., July 2003.
In our May 2003 news story, "Will Safety Concerns Stick to Teflon?,"we said EPA entered into an enforceable consent agreement with major fluoropolymer manufacturers. In reality, the companies and EPA are in negotiations to decide whether or not to enter such an agreement. At press time, no agreement had been reached.