Rising raw material and energy costs, ever-increasing regulation and meeting its own targets for sustainable development are driving the industry’s involvement in a whole variety of advanced technologies.
Such comprehensive challenges requires comprehensive solutions, a good of example of which is the announcement by Solvay, Brussels, Belgium, that it plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% at its manufacturing site in Tavaux, France, following approval by French authorities for a biomass-based thermal power plant there (Figure 1).
Figure 1 -- Biomass-based power plant
The €76 million ($100 million) investment will generate 30 MW of electricity and 30 t/h of steam. The electricity will be sold to electricity company Electricité de France while Solvay will use the steam in its manufacturing operations.
“Our plans in Tavaux, as well as our secondary solid-fuel project in Bernburg, Germany, illustrate Solvay’s long-standing policy of diversifying energy sources, to foster the group’s sustainable and profitable development,” says Jean-Michel Mesland, general manager for research and technology.
The company also has joined Capricorn Cleantech Fund, a venture capital fund that focuses on startup, early and development stage investments in clean-technology-based growth companies across Europe.
Solvay acts as a strategic partner in the fund, whose other investors include energy group Electrabel/Suez, French-Belgian bank Dexia, Flemish government investment organization Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen, and the European Union’s (EU) European Investment Fund (EIF).
Solvay’s particular focus here is on chemistry based on renewable materials, sustainable energy sources and environmental technologies. The company’s most advanced projects in those areas include the manufacturing of epichlorohydrin from natural glycerine through its proprietary Epicerol process, the production of vinyls derived from salt and sugar cane, plus the development of membrane electrode assemblies for fuel cells.
In addition, Solvay Group is to participate in France’s BioHub project for the development of “green” performance materials. As part of this involvement, the company has decided to invest $40 million in its subsidiary Solvay Chemicals, Green River, Wyo., where a novel proprietary technology is to be used to manufacture its new SOLVair Select 300 product for the treatment of sulfur dioxide in flue gases.
With an initial capacity of 125 000 t/y, startup is planned for 2010 — using a process that the company says will improve the environmental efficiency of the Green River plant.
“This development is in line with the Solvay Group’s commitment towards sustainable development, as it supports applications aimed at mitigating environmental impact of air emissions and improves the efficiency of our Green River plant,” comments Christine Tahon, managing director of the soda ash strategic business unit. “With this product, Solvay again demonstrates that innovators in the chemical industry are best suited to provide workable solutions to some of today’s most critical environmental challenges,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Sabic U.K. Petrochemicals, Wilton, U.K., is to install a regenerative thermal oxidation (RTO) system on its 400,000 t/y low-density polyethylene plant there (Figure 2).
Figure 2 -- Regenerative thermal oxidizer
The technology is being supplied by AirProtekt, Cambridge, U.K., and includes a Roxitherm RTK 70 RTO manufactured by Lufttechnik Bayreuth (LTB), Goldkronach, Germany, which has installed more than 200 such systems on the continent.
Sabic’s new RTO system is designed to combine very high thermal efficiencies — up to 97% — and minimal operating costs. (For more on RTO, see: http://www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2009/024.html.) It can treat high volumes of exhaust gases and handle exhaust airflow rates up to 73,500 Nm³/h at 50°C. The RTK 70s high-temperature operation is capable of achieving more than 99% VOC destruction efficiency and features a purge system to prevent emissions of untreated VOCs during the valve operating cycle.
“This application…enables us to offer the plant’s main contractor, Simon Carves, a competitively priced project solution with a design flexibility that enabled a large RTO system to be efficiently packaged to maximize the potential of the limited available space,” notes Trevor Lawton, AirProtekt’s managing director.
Since 2000, ExxonMobil, Plano, Texas, has been on a campaign to identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency by 15–20% at its chemical plants and refineries. So far, the company has implemented more than half these opportunities, with associated costs savings of about $750 million per year.
These efforts have reaped a number of energy efficiency awards over the years from both the American Chemistry Council and the Industrial Energy Technology Conference (ITEC).
Its most recent ITEC award is for the operation of cogeneration facilities at the company’s Baytown, Texas, site. These increase energy efficiency at the complex’s refinery, two chemical plants and research center — plus help reduce the region’s overall emission of greenhouse gases, says ExxonMobil (Figure 3).
Figure 3 -- The power of cogeneration
Another company on a long-term campaign is Lyondell, Houston. For six years, it has been pursuing a commitment to improve environmental performance at its facilities in Texas. As an integral part of this, the company is investing in new infrared (IR) camera technology to assist in spotting fugitive emissions, leaks in pipe connections and seals.
The use of IR cameras has enabled it to pinpoint the exact location of leaks that might have remained hidden using traditional fugitive monitoring techniques — particularly for components high in a pipe rack, says Lyondell.
Another major advantage is the ability to detect elusive emissions from corrosion beneath insulation. These vapors often exit at points a considerable distance from the source point but an IR camera easily detects the source by following the trail of the hydrocarbon plume.
As a result, both the identification and repair of fugitive emission sources is much more efficient — good news for both the industry and the environment.
No surprise, therefore, that suppliers are improving products’ capabilities. For example, Raytek, Santa Cruz, Calif., has launched the XR IR thermometer, which is designed to optimize continuous temperature monitoring in a broad range of manufacturing processes (Figure 4).
Figure 4 -- New thermometer
It, claims the company, combines a host of best-in-class features, including multiple extended temperature ranges, precision temperature resolution, RS-485 outputs and a versatile electronics platform. Together, these features create a single IR sensor that Raytek says outperforms other thermometers in challenging temperature-measurement environments.
“The Raytek XR infrared thermometer delivers both performance and value for users with demanding temperature-measurement requirements. This thermometer reduces energy costs by allowing tighter process control and more efficient process heating,” enthuses Frank Schneider, worldwide product manager.
Containing a Problem
Then there is the issue of regulation and guidance, both new and impending. In the U.K., composite intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) are a hot topic at the moment. “IBCs are now being widely used by the industry and its customers, not just for transport, but also for longer-term storage and other purposes, such as waste disposal. Research following a number of incidents has shown that composite IBCs can release their contents when exposed to flames and this can easily accelerate the spread of a relatively minor fire when the contents are combustible,” notes Douglas Leech, technical manager of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), Crewe, U.K.
So, CBA has worked with the Solvent Industries Association (SIA), London, (whose members include ExxonMobil Chemicals, Sasol Chemicals Europe, Shell Chemicals and Total U.K.), in consultation with the U.K.’s regulatory body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Sheffield, U.K. to publish new guidance covering the storage of liquids in such vessels. It sets out good practice for the industry and provides a reference point for the HSE in assessing operating standards.
“The new guidance should not be regarded as an authoritative statement of the law, but by following its advice companies will normally be doing enough to comply with health and safety law in relation to the issues on which the guidance provides advice,” says Leech.
Composite IBCs are also on the radar in the U.S., notably with the April publication by the U.S. Fire Administration, Emmitsburg, Md., of a “coffee break training” sheet for firefighters (www.usfa.dhs.gov/nfa/coffee-break/).
That document gives a brief description of the difference between listed and non-listed composite IBCs, and then goes on to warn its readers: “The main area of concern is that non-listed composite IBCs will fail quickly during fire exposure, adding a large amount of additional fuel to a fire. This large fuel release may overwhelm a building’s fire protection features.”
Figure 5 -- Safer container
Already rising to this challenge, Schütz, Selters, Germany, chose the recent Interpack 2008 event to launch its Ecobulk SX-EX-UL IBC. Conforming to the U.S. standard NFPA-30, this IBC is based on the tried and tested SE-EX container that features a steel case with an electrostatic function and an inner bottle that additionally protects filling products from light, ultraviolet rays and mechanical influences (Figure 5). Meeting NFPA-30 ensures that, in the event of fire, the container will — with the assistance of a sprinkler system — prevent damage to the inner bottle for at least 20 minutes.
Of broader regulatory interest is the launch by the European Commission of the first of several studies under its review of the Seveso II Directive (96/82/EC). This first study is on the “Effectiveness of the Seveso II Directive” and mainly focuses on: the adequacy of the directive to prevent major accidents and mitigate their consequences; the main requirements on site operators; the impact of the directive and how effectively it has been implemented, and whether it has created any market distortions.
Currently, the directive’s requirements are aimed at “preventing major accidents and mitigating their consequences, for the benefit of society and the environment.” However, the Commission emphasizes that non-uniform implementation of these requirements in the various member states can create significant market distortions within the EU. “If the requirements in Europe compared to other part of the world are too strict and the impacts of these requirements not obvious, then the competitiveness of the industry can be affected,” it notes.
Concerns about the lack of obvious benefits associated with regulations have also reared their head in Washington. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), Washington, D.C., has urged the committee to “thoughtfully consider whether it is necessary or wise to adopt a monolithic new regulatory regime for chemical regulation like the EU’s registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals (REACH) regulation.”
Though the committee hasn’t yet proposed legislation to mandate a new chemical policy similar to REACH, many in Washington believe this is likely to happen.
“An ‘American REACH’ would not only hamper innovation but would reverse the progress made over the course of many years by federal regulators and the chemical industry to appropriately manage risk,” testified Jim DeLisi, president of Fanwood Chemical, Fanwood, N.J., a SOCMA member.
He went on to say that whether or not REACH will improve either human health or the environment will not be known for years — while its ability to tie up regulators and commerce is already clear. “Americans cannot afford to emulate this unproven, highly bureaucratic approach to chemical regulation, especially when we already possess a system that has proven its mettle and needs only revitalization,” he concluded.
Non-Compliance Isn’t an Option
Whatever the merits or otherwise of potential new legislation, non-compliance remains an expensive option, as recent prosecutions show.
In July, for example, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Princeton, N.J., agreed to reduce the output of ozone-depleting refrigerants at multiple industrial facilities around the country at a combined cost of $3.65 million to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act. Under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the company has to retire or retrofit by July of this year 17 industrial refrigeration units that currently use hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as refrigerants. The units are at facilities in Mt Vernon and Evansville, Ind., Hopewell, N.J., and Humacao and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
In addition, the company has agreed to perform a supplemental environment project that will involve retiring two comfort cooling units at its New Brunswick, N.J., plant and connecting the air conditioners to the company’s new centralized refrigeration system. The new system uses water-chilled coolers which act as the refrigerant to minimize the use of chemical agents in the chilling process.
Combined, these measures will remove over 6,350 pounds of HCFCs from the company’s operations. In addition, it will take additional steps to assure compliance with EPA regulations at thirteen of its facilities and pay $127,000 in civil penalties.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb has acted responsibly, not only to discover, document, and correct past violations, but to eliminate the use of potentially-damaging refrigerants in its operations,” said Granta Nakayama, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These actions will help to protect the ozone layer, ensuring a safer environment for our future generations.”
Also in July, acetate manufacturer Celanese Acetate, Narrows, Va., agreed to pay $60,000 to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA cited the company for problems related to the monitoring and repairing of equipment at Celanese’s Celco plant in Narrows.
EPA alleges that in 2003 Celanese failed to perform a required test on a continuous emissions monitor for nitrogen oxides on a boiler at the Celco plant, in violation of the Clean Air Act and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s state implementation plan for controling nitrogen oxide pollution. In addition, the company failed to monitor valves, connectors and heat exchangers; to repair a leaking connector; to cap an open-ended line; and to include all required information in its regulatory reporting documents. The failures also violate Celanese’s operating permit mandated under the Clean Air Act.
Since these violations, Celanese has increased its efforts to monitor and detect for leaks of hazardous air pollutants, says the EPA.
Seán Ottewell is editor at large for Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.