EU funds €6m to improve efficiency of batch processes

Posted on 26 Mar 2015 by Tim Brown
A BASF plant which is involved in the production of performance chemicals - image courtesy of BASF
A BASF plant which is involved in the production of performance chemicals - image courtesy of BASF.

A consortium of European industrial companies, universities and research institutes have launched a €6m (£4.42m) project to test the use of sensors to improve efficiency of batch process production.

The RECOBA (Cross-sectorial REal time sensing, advanced COntrol and optimization of BAtch processes, saving energy and raw materials) project is being funded for its three-year term by the European Union.

The aim of the project is to optimise the efficiency and flexibility of different kinds of batch processes. The initial study will focus on the production of emulsion polymers, steel and silicon.

Using new sensor technologies, process models and automation tools, it is hoped that the findings will help improve the competitiveness of a significant portion of the European batch process industry.

Under the project coordination of BASF, the RECOBA partners include: ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe AG, Germany; ELKEM AS Technology, Norway; University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; RWTH Aachen University, Germany; University of Chemistry and Technology Prague, Czech Republic; the University of the Basque Country, Spain; VDEh-Betriebsforschungsinstitut GmbH, Germany; Cybernetica AS, Norway; and Minkon Sp. z o.o., Poland.

This group will focus on three different material systems to demonstrate the cross-sectorial applicability of developed sensors, optimisation and control methods, with the goal of optimising product quality, energy consumption, raw materials utilization and production costs of the considered processes.

As part of its contribution to the RECOBA project, BASF (basf.com) will focus on the online Model Predictive Control of an emulsion co-polymerization process.

“Our goal is to replace the current process control, which is based on repetition at a fixed schedule, by the model-based online process control,” said Dr. Libor Seda, BASF project lead.

Under this new approach, the controller acts based on the current state of the production process. Thereby the control mechanism adjusts the process control variables in real time in order to follow the optimal process trajectory, leading to the desired product properties.

Product properties to be controlled in the emulsion polymerization case include, for example, solid content, copolymer composition and morphology of polymer latex particles.

“The advantage of such model-based process control is the ability to produce a product within narrow quality specification limits, and at the same time, to achieve maximal efficiency in energy and cycle / batch production time because the process control follows the optimal process trajectory at each time,” explained Seda.

Thus, there is a significant potential to increase reactor productivity while also saving energy input for heating and cooling of the reactor.