Showing posts with label design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label design. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

From Biomass to Biofuel

Biomass converted to gasoline
Biomass converted to gasoline (image courtesy of
Biomass resources run the gamut from corn kernels to corn stalks, from soybean and canola oils to animal fats, from prairie grasses to hardwoods, and even include algae.

In the long run, we will need diverse technologies to make use of these different energy sources. Some technologies are already developed; others will be. Today, the most common technologies involve biochemical, chemical, and thermochemical conversion processes.

Ethanol, today’s largest volume biofuel, is produced through a biochemical conversion process. In this process, yeasts ferment sugar from starch and sugar crops into ethanol. Most of today’s ethanol is produced from cornstarch or sugarcane. But biochemical conversion techniques can also make use of more abundant “cellulosic” biomass sources such as grasses, trees, and agricultural residues.

Researchers develop processes that use heat, pressure, chemicals, and enzymes to unlock the sugars in cellulosic biomass. The sugars are then fermented to ethanol, typically by using genetically engineered micro- organisms. Cellulosic ethanol is the leading candidate for replacing a large portion of U.S. petroleum use.

A much simpler chemical process is used to produce biodiesel. Today’s biodiesel facilities start with vegetable oils, seed oils, or animal fats and react them with methanol or ethanol in the presence of a catalyst. In addition, genetic engineering work has produced algae with a high lipid content that can be used as another source of biodiesel.

Algae are a form of biomass which could substantially increase our nation’s ability to produce domestic biofuels. Algae and plants can serve as a natural source of oil, which conventional petroleum refineries can convert into jet fuel or diesel fuel—a product known as “green diesel.”

Researchers also explore and develop thermochemical processes for converting biomass to liquid fuels. One such process is pyrolysis, which decomposes biomass by heating it in the absence of air. This produces an oil-like liquid that can be burned like fuel oil or re ned into chemicals and fuels, such as “green gasoline.” Thermochemical processes can also be used to pretreat biomass for conversion to biofuels.

Another thermochemical process is gasification. In this process, heat and a limited amount of oxygen are used to convert biomass into a hot synthesis gas. This “syngas” can be combusted and used to produce electricity in a gas turbine or converted to hydrocarbons, alcohols, ethers, or chemical products. In this process, biomass gasifiers can work side by side with fossil fuel gasifiers for greater flexibility and lower net greenhouse gas emissions.

In the future, biomass-derived components such as carbohydrates, lignins, and triglycerides might also be converted to hydrocarbon fuels. Such fuels can be used in heavy-duty vehicles, jet engines, and other applications that need fuels with higher energy densities than those of ethanol or biodiesel.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Batch Processing vs. Continuous Manufacturing in Pharmaceuticals

Not much has changed in pharmaceutical manufacturing over the last 50 years. While technological advancements in creating new drugs have been made, the pharmaceutical industry still relies heavenly on traditional step-by-step batch processing.

Alternatively, continuous manufacturing, which is the preferred manufacturing process in automotive, food & beverage, and refining industries – has been slow to gain acceptance in pharmaceutical production, largely because of high startup costs.

Batch Processing vs. Continuous Manufacturing


Batch Manufacturing:

All materials are charged before the start of processing and discharged at the end of

  • Examples: Bin blending, lyophilization, some reactions

Continuous Manufacturing

Material is simultaneously charged and discharged from the process

  • Examples: Petroleum refining, much of food processing


Semi-Batch (Fed-batch)Manufacturing

Materials are added during processing and discharged at the end of processing.

  • Examples: Wet granulation, fermentation

Semi-Continuous Manufacturing

Like continuous manufacturing, but for a discrete time period.

  • Examples: Roller compaction, tablet compression

Batch Processing

Although reliable, batch processing is viewed a slower manufacturing method for pharmaceuticals, and also less safe because of higher risk for contamination and errors between steps. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have no choice but to continually evaluate and implement the best possible production processes. Considering an estimated $50 billion per year is wasted on on inefficient processes in the pharmaceutical industry, it makes great sense to migrate toward continuous manufacturing.

Continuous Manufacturing

Continuous manufacturing is faster, more efficient, and inherently safer. Improved safety is derived from rigid quality control requirements in continuous manufacturing. Considering this, the concern over large plant and equipment outlays looses is impact. Many experts maintain that continuous manufacturing is ultimately a far less costly production process (considering efficiency and safety), once the initial plant, equipment, and training costs are amortized.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Safety Video: Refinery Plant Explosion Animation

Brought to you as a courtesy of U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ( and Process Systems and Design (

Video reviews the circumstances that led up to a 2015 explosion at a refinery in Torrence CA.

Process Systems and Design is a team of technical and business experts across a spectrum of industries who specialize in all aspects of process control and material handling equipment design, construction, and support. They can be reached by visiting or calling (410) 861-6437.