Efficient and green

It is clear that increasing the efficiency of manufacturing processes in the chemical industry could result in substantial benefit for the industry and increase its overall sustainability, lowering the negative impact on the environment. Unfortunately, the complexity of the thousands of processes being used in chemical manufacturing and significant differences between different plants' energy utilization patterns do not allow precise evaluation of the potential economic and environmental impact of specific process intensification efforts. However, in some cases applying a number of assumptions, we can try to assess potential impacts of specific technologies on the global environment. Averaging our results on the assessment of the potential benefits of Corning® Advanced-Flow™ reactors used in comparison with similar batch processes, the cumulative economic and environmental effects have been estimated and a graphical summary has been generated, fig. 4 [9]. The chart illustrates that significant improvements in process economics can be achieved due to substantial decreases in risks associated with process scale up. Also, significant reduction of solvent utilization makes a great contribution toward much greener and less expensive production of chemicals.

Figure 4: Economic and "green" indexes of Corning® Advanced-FlowTM reactor.

Assuming further successful development and penetration of continuous-flow technology based on employment of microchannel reactors, the potential for increased energy efficiency for chemical manufacturing processes and CO2 emission reduction can be significant.

Internal analysis was performed in order to estimate the scale of potential environmental impact form continuous-flow microreactor-based technology penetrating pharmaceuticals and crop protection markets. The analysis utilizes results from a market forecast and technology penetration model developed internally and averaged industrial numbers on energy intensity for pharmaceuticals and crop protection segments available from various public sources. Our internal market and technology assessment revealed that it is possible that by 2015 approximately 1.7 billion tones of active ingredients (measured by mass throughput) in pharmaceuticals and crop protection segments could be produced using continuous-flow processing. The average energy intensity of pesticide active ingredients production is about 350,693 Btu (370 MJ) per kg of the final product [10]. For pharmaceuticals, energy intensity of API production on average can reach levels between 47,391 Btu/kg and 284,346 Btu/kg [11]. The calculation of the final product volumes was made with an assumption of 85:1 and 28:1 of total throughout to final product conversion ratios for pharmaceuticals and crop protection segments correspondingly. The applied conversion ratios do not consider any impact from continuous-flow process use, but represent batch process average industrial ratios in accordance with our internal estimate. Based on the National Energy Foundation, conversion rates for EU-27 grid electricity [12], from utilization of 100,000 Btu, the amount of CO2 emitted is approximately equal to 12 kilograms. Referring to our internal energy efficiency benefit analysis and possible scenario of the future increase in use of continuous-flow production process by pharmaceuticals and crop protection segments, and assuming only electricity being used as a source of energy, by 2015 annual energy use by these two industry sectors may drop down by 118 quadrillion Btu, which is approximately equivalent to annually emitted 14.3 billion metric tones of CO2 globally. The calculation, of course, provides a very rough estimate of the potential environmental effect of microreactor-based process intensification, but it allows getting a better idea of the scale and importance of the potential impact from the continuous flow technologies penetrating chemical industry segments, which traditionally favour batch manufacturing. Also, it allows us to mention that additional economical benefits from the employment of the continuous-flow production process can be achieved in the countries where the government imposes CO2 taxes on the chemical producers.

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