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Modular Process Case Studies

Advanced Pilot Plant Validates Alternative Energy Technology With Automated Production-Level Testing

A custom engineered pilot plant was fabricated to convert biomass to liquid fuel. The self-contained process skid tested and validated the production feasibility of a multi-stage separation process.

CLIENT: Fortune 500 Company
INDUSTRY: Oil and Gas, Alternative Energy

KEY ENGINEERING FEATURES:

    • Multi-stage separation process for alternative energy: biomass to liquid fuel
    • Future technologies proof-of-concept pilot plant
    • Industrial feasibility testing – industrial testing equipment
    • Integrated utility systems
    • 12+ sampling points

CORE CHALLENGES:

    • Proprietary technology scale-up
    • Skid design – everything contained in small footprint with enclosed walls
      • Layout – Ensuring all equipment and critical processes are accessible within skid
    • Integrating scale-able technologies for industrial feasibility testing
    • No pre-existing utility systems
    • On-going skid modifications as skid was built and tested

 

AN EPIC SOLUTION

Front-End Engineering/Design Engineering

pilot plant controls testing

During our proprietary Front-End Engineering (FEE) stage, EPIC took the client provided lab-scale testing data and the process flow diagram and began developing a physical modular plant and P&ID’s. The general concept and general operational stages were discussed with the client in detail, and EPIC made additional recommendations for intermediate processing steps.

After EPIC submitted a bid that was accepted by the client, final P&ID’s were developed and scale-up work began in 2D & 3D modeling software. There are several project features that EPIC always examines during the detailed design stage for scale-up projects:

    • Full-Production Feasibility – EPIC each step of your technology works to specification. Our scale-up specialists establish a feasible path to full production for all processes involved.
    • Critical Scale-Up Challenges – The critical scale-up challenges are identified during the design phase, and we test the limits of these challenges through scale-up modeling software to determine the best solutions for each processing step
    • Pilot plant design and fabricationSkid Layout – Layout begins during the Front-end engineering stage and continues to evolve during the detailed design phase. Our goal is to create a layout for the pilot plant with accessibility as the key concern and a clear path to any equipment likely to change during testing. Typically we design skids with equipment in a U-shape around the outside edges and a control panel at one end. This allows access to equipment from both the outside and inside of the skid.
    • Process Flexibility – Demonstration plants often require on-going modifications and testing, including equipment changes and various production rates. We design your pilot plant to allow you to easily try multiple variations by either designing several different flow paths, or by making sure parts can be easily exchanged.
    • Sampling Points – We design sampling points so that you can understand how your product is changing as it travels through the process and so you can measure the key efficiencies of your process.
    • Utility Systems – Exhaust fans, catch pans, drainage and various other utilities may or may not pre-exist in facilities where pilot plants are destined. We thoroughly examine the needed utility systems an incorporate any necessary systems into the packaged modular skid.

THE FINAL SOLUTION

self contained automated pilot plant skid

A self-contained automated advanced laboratory skid that converted biomass to liquid fuels in a multi-stage process was delivered fully tested to the client. The final skid included several industrial technologies that provided a clear path to production. For example; the heat source for this project was a major concern. At the pilot plant scale, electric heat tracing could have been used to heat the process. The size of equipment required for full production was too large for electric heat tracing to adequately provide heating. For this reason, EPIC designed the demonstration skid with an industrial heater to test the production-sized heating process.

There were no pre-existing utility systems for this plant. EPIC’s scale-up specialists included an exhaust system, drainage system, and spill management system on the pilot plant itself. The skid was also fully enclosed due to location in a lab space, where a system breach would need containment within the skid.

The final pilot plant included over a dozen sampling points placed strategically throughout the process. This allowed the client to check specific process efficiencies and understand the changing states of the product. The end of the process also had a built in valving system that allowed plant operators to collect multiple samples at different points during operation in different totes for analysis. Product would be collected in one tote during start-up. After a valve switch, it is collected in a different tote during steady-state operations, and finally in a third tote during process shut-down.

The pilot plant stayed at EPIC for extended testing. Testing with chemicals was performed at EPIC’s fabrication shop before the system was shipped. There were several issues identified during initial testing that could not have been for-seen by either the customer or EPIC. These were addressed during the extended testing period in the controlled environment of EPIC’s shop. This two month period of testing, by EPIC’s project managers, allowed the client to save 3-4 months of start-up time on location.

IMPACT

    • Reduced start-up time through extended testing in EPIC’s shop by using the same project manager and controlled shop environment to make adjustments prior to plant shipment.
    • Proprietary technology was protected in an enclosed in-door fabrication facility
    • No external site modifications were required because utility systems were included in pilot plant
    • Clear path to production sized operations were provided by industrial technologies, incorporated by EPIC’s scale-up specialists
    • Time and money invested for production scale design/fabrication significantly reduced through use of industrial technology testing at the pilot plant level
    • Changes to process were easy to make, due to accessible skid design
    • Pilot plant was inherently safe for lab workers and could be easily relocated or re-purposed because of contained modular design

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