Ask The Experts

ChemicalProcessing.com has assembled a roster of leading authorities in many fields to help you address technical issues.


  • Combustion by Rakesh Gupta, supervising process engineer, URS Corporation Many processing operations require heat. To supply this heat, plants burn a variety of fuels, ranging from natural gas and petroleum-based liquid fuels to coal and waste materials. Skyrocketing fuel costs, coupled with mandates to control emissions, are making efficient combustion more essential than ever. Achieving peak performance depends upon optimal design of burners and fuel trains and the right fuel-to-air ratio. Don’t let combustion issues get you overheated, check with our authority.
  • Compressors by Dr. Meherwan P. Boyce, P.E. Use of fluids at above-atmospheric pressure, often at high pressure, is essential in many processes, from assuring optimum reacton conditions to enabling separation of products. Compression equipment typically is highly sophisticated and complex. So, selection of the right type of compressor and appropriate sizing can be tricky, and operation and maintenance issues can revolve around subtle points that may not be apparent to non-specialists.
  • Corrosion by Brian Dalder, engineering consultant, Eli Lilly Choosing the right materials of construction for process hardware and equipment is crucial for achieving desired service life. Usually, economics dictate the use of materials that will corrode, but at an acceptable rate, in the given service. However, subtle changes in stream composition or conditions often can profoundly affect corrosion rate and even foster a different corrosion mechanism. Don’t let corrosion concerns eat at you; check with our expert.
  • Crystallization by Wayne Genck, president, Genck International Production of high-purity solids often requires recovering the materials from a solution. This can be because the products were formed in the solution or because they have had to be dissolved so they then can be recovered via crystallization at higher purity or with a more desirable morphology. Don’t precipitate problems in scale-up or operations, get solid answers from an authority.
  • Data Analysis by Ron Dieck, principal, Ron Dieck Associates Inc. Improving plant operations, product quality or any monitored variable requires gathering and then evaluating data, to provide a framework for understanding current performance and metrics for charting changes. Knowing the quality of data, particularly whether random and systematic errors affect measurements and, if so, how to deal with these sources of error, is crucial for properly and effectively using the data. Remove your uncertainty about your data by querying Dr. Gooddata himself.
  • Design of Experiments by Dr. James Cawse Development of chemical products and processes usually requires the running of numerous experiments. Using the right experimental strategy and tactics is essential for efficiency. High-throughput and combinatorial experimentation often can speed up the process. Once you've generated data, applying appropriate statistical methods and analysis techniques is crucial for proper interpretation. Make the most of your development efforts by consulting our expert.
  • Distillation by Michael R. Resetarits, technical director, Fractionation Research, Inc., (retired) Separating components by splitting them into liquid and vapor streams by distillation is a common and crucial operation at many plants. Many factors come into play in achieving optimum design and troublefree operation. The large number of proprietary devices, both packings and trays, for promoting contact between the phases adds another dimension to properly dealing with distillation systems. Let an authority help you still your concerns.
  • Environmental Protection by Dave Russell, president, Global Environmental Operations Inc. Regulations related to pollution prevention and abatement are increasingly defining how and how long a plant can operate, while cleanup responsibilities and costs can pose profound financial impacts on companies. Understanding treatment options for wastes and permissible emissions to the air, water and ground are essential. Take advantage of the insights of an experienced practitioner.
  • Fermentation and Bioproduct Recovery by David Kahn, senior consultant engineer, Eli Lilly; and Tim Cirbo, engineering consultant- ETC (sterility and cleaning), Eli Lilly Fermentation ranks as one of the earliest techniques for chemical conversion. Yet, it remains crucial for the manufacture of a wide range of products in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and foodstuffs. The natural organisms involved in fermentation give the process a unique character and pose special issues. Similarly, recovery of products made by fermentation can raise a variety of challenges. Don’t be bugged by these operations when a guru can give you guidance.
  • Heat Transfer by Jim Grant, DuPont Heating and cooling are essential in many unit operations, to bring materials to an appropriate temperature for processing or subsequent handling. The extensive use of heat transfer has spurred a wide variety of types of heat exchangers and a broad choice of heat transfer fluids. Keep cool when grappling with design, selection, operation and troubleshooting and other issues by consulting an expert.
  • Instrumentation and Control by Greg McMillan, principal consultant, TAC Worldwide, and Cecil Smith, president, Cecil L. Smith, Inc. The efficient and safe operation of a chemical process depends upon knowing what is happening and adjusting operations as required. Advances in instrumentation and control systems, including in communications protocols, provide unparalleled opportunities for achieving optimum operations. However, issues such as choosing the right sensors and control philosophy can make this challenging for the non-expert. Pose your questions to two renowned authorities.
  • Liquid Extraction by Frank Seibert, The University of Texas at Austin While distillation gets the nod most often for separations, issues such as close relative volatilities of components or heat sensitivity may make the technique impractical or uneconomic. In such cases, liquid extraction, by taking advantage of the difference in solubility of a component between two immiscible liquid phases, often can achieve the desired separation. However, factors such as solvent selection and equipment design and operation can profoundly affect performance. Extract the most from the technique by checking with our expert.
  • Liquid Filtration by Ernest Mayer, E. Mayer Filtration Consulting, LLC Purification of process streams as well as treatment of effluents often require the removal of solids from liquids. The size, nature and amount of the solids, coupled with the desired level of removal and throughput must be considered in choosing from among the many options which include filters, centrifuges and other equipment. Don’t let the wrong decision slip though, consult an authority.
  • Mixing by Dave Dickey, senior consultant, MixTech Inc. Effectively contacting materials is crucial for operations ranging from solids suspension to gas dispersion and from reacting raw materials to compounding finished ingredients. The wide variety of mixer types — dynamic and static, as well as in-tank and in-line — and the design options for the mixers and vessels can make selecting the right unit tough. And troubleshooting an existing unit can be tricky. So, check with our expert to avoid mix-ups.
  • Motors and Drives by Tom Bishop and Chuck Yung, technical support specialists, Electrical Apparatus Service Association Processing invariably involves operations like pumping, conveying and mixing that depend upon mechanical movement. So, motors and the drives that transmit the rotating motion are ubiquitous at most plants and the efficiency and reliability of these units can significantly impact operations. This makes it essential to understand the factors that affect their functioning and how to properly troubleshoot. Don’t let motor and drive issues spin out of control, consult these authorities.
  • Pilot Plants by Rich Palluzi, senior engineering associate ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Once a promising process has been identified in the laboratory, the next step usually is transferring it to a pilot plant, to generate data on various design and operational factors. The choice of whether to go with a custom-built pilot plant or to reconfigure a multipurpose unit is only one of the issues. Others include how to instrument and run the equipment. With so much riding on the results of pilot runs, don’t take chances but check with a veteran of such operations.
  • Plant Security by Dave Moore, president and CEO, AcuTech Consulting Group As a consequence of heightened awareness and concern over possible terrorist threats to chemical plants, security has become an increasingly critical aspect of site operations. Protecting equipment and information raises issues of physical and network access and how to properly validate a person’s identity. This topic is too important to risk the wrong decisions; ask someone who really knows.
  • Powder Handling by Lee Dudley, Diamondback Technology Many processes involve powders as raw materials, intermediates or finished products. Properly storing, moving and blending these materials can be crucial for efficient plant operations. Yet, unless the particularities of a material’s flow properties are properly taken into account in equipment selection and operation, powders can pose a wide variety of problems, from not dispensing properly to not mixing as intended. Don’t let powders put you in a bind, consult an expert.
  • Process Design by John Williams, general manager, EPS Should a plant operate continuously or on a batch basis? What about equipment sizing and layout? How should necessary utilities be provided? Process design tackles these and other issues that must be addressed before a plant can be built. Avoid an flawed flowsheet by checking with an authority.
  • Process Development by John Corn, principal consultant, Chemical Process Consulting Translating an idea about how to make a product into a process for commercially manufacturing that product is a complex task. The crux of the effort is coming up with an optimum process — one that offers the best balance of efficiency, quality, throughput and other key attributes. Finding that optimum is tough, but expert advice can help.
  • Process Improvement by Douglas R. Pratt, consultant Most processes have room for improvement, sometimes substantial room, in how they are operated and even how they are designed. Various techniques can help identify areas requiring attention. Six Sigma methods tackle issues related to product quality. Lean tools aim to minimize non-value-adding activities. Improve your process improvement efforts by consulting with someone with extensive experience.
  • Process Safety by Dennis Hendershot, principal process safety specialist, Chilworth Technology Inc. The chemical industry long has been concerned about the safety of its operations and the risks both within the plant gate and beyond. Dealing with safety issues can involve sophisticated techniques for hazard analysis and prescriptive measures for plant design and operation. It also can involve rethinking a process to make it inherently safer. It demands an understanding of tradeoffs and nuances, which makes getting expert advice the safe approach.
  • Process Simplification by Girish Malhotra, president, EPCOT International Translating a bench-scale process into an efficient scheme for commercial use involves more than piloting and scaling-up the research route. After all, bench-scale processes often are developed with the goal of making a material, without much regard for the realities of production operations, and so can be complex and finicky. Many can be significantly improved, easing piloting and subsequent commercialization. Let our expert help you realize this simple truth.
  • Pumps by Ross Mackay, president, Ross Mackay Associates Plants generally rely on a multitude of pumps, to move raw materials, intermediates and products, and to supply, recycle and remove essential utilities such as water, heat-transfer fluids and the like. So, proper selection and operation of pumps plays a key role in keeping a process running smoothly. Don’t let the wide variety of units and the subtleties of troubleshooting move you in the wrong direction, consult a specialist.
  • Reliability and Maintenance by Michael Eisenbise, Global Reliability Implementation Specialist, BP Downstream Keeping a plant operating economically means making the most of rotating equipment and other hardware by having a good maintenance program. Knowing what to monitor and how is crucial. So, too, is understanding what failing equipment says about its suitability and how the process is running. Take advantage of the insights of someone who uses effective practices.
  • Sealing by Peter S. Petrunich, technical director of the Fluid Sealing Association Optimization of sealing systems offers a significant opportunity to save energy and increase productivity. Additionally, proper seal technology can improve plant safety and environmental compliance, reduce water consumption, enhance equipment reliability and cut overall maintenance costs.
  • Simulation by John Edwards, senior consultant, P & I Design Ltd. Modeling software can provide a crucial understanding of how a process runs and which design and operating factors play key roles — provided, of course, that the model accurately describes the system. Determining which relationships to use in a particular simulation and how to set it up often requires significant experience and expertise. The model approach is to check with an authority.
  • Solids Processing by Tom Blackwood, director of technology, Healthsite Associates Unit operations such as crystallization, precipitation, evaporation, drying and solid-liquid separation are common at many plants. However, properly dealing with solids also often means dealing with material subtleties like shape, size and size distribution that can have a profound effect on plant performance. Put your operation on a solid footing by asking an expert.
  • Steam and Thermal Systems by Veerasamy Venkatesan, general manager, VGA Engineering Consultants, Inc. Steam serves as a ubiquitous utility at most plants. It is used to generate mechanical shaft power, raise or maintain the temperature of fluids and materials in vessels and lines, to remove components, and even to create vacuum. The design and operation of steam systems involve specialty hardware and raise unique issues and challenges that are not always appreciated by people more focused on process streams. So, let our expert keep you from getting steamed.