Manage uncertainties in R&D to increase success rates

Research projects are by definition uncertain in their outcomes. Over the years, Avantium has executed many challenging catalyst testing projects and helped customers to stay competitive by accelerating their R&D.

However, while outsourcing projects can fast-track research, if the intended results are not delivered, the visibility of the money spent externally is seen as a downside. As a result, we have seen a preference for outsourcing mainly programs with a high degree of certainty of achieving well-defined outcomes. And yet, Avantium’s innovative approach to R&D has often enabled complex and uncertain projects to be successfully completed.

Clear Stages as a success factor

In planning such projects together with our customers, Avantium applies clear stage gates, each with well-defined milestones, and step-out options in case these are not achieved.

These gates range from feed processability, analytical method development, unit configuration, and lastly, chemical validation (behavior of catalysts and products under design operating conditions, and with the intended analytical methods). At each gate, decisions are taken to proceed, redesign the program or to stop before further expense and resources need to be made available for the next stage. This gives our customers control over budgets, and in the end a higher degree of certainty of achieving intended results, while still executing valuable research in unknown areas.

An example of how we manage stages in our research services projects

One customer wished to execute a research program in which the products could undergo post-reactor reactions leading to failed experiments or blockage of the hardware. The customer was unable to test the process in their own equipment and even doubted whether it could be done in high-throughput equipment. Firstly, we proposed an added stage, to determine the successful operating regime to avoid post-reactor reactions, which we executed in a limited number of reactors.

Next, with the optimal regime determined the analytical method and sampling frequency was determined, maximizing the results before any blockages could occur. All this was done in close consultation with the customer, and we executed the program in a 64-reactor unit. Since the first project, we have repeated the same program for the customer several times. Within each stage, the customer had the option to cancel the project, thereby managing the outcomes and their costs.

Another example – difficult to process heavy vacuum gas oil

In another example, a difficult to process heavy vacuum gas oil feed had to be tested. Contrary to common belief there are more factors influencing feed processability than analytical methods can describe, making it somewhat an art. Even properly characterized by e.g. boiling point curve, aromatic molecule and contaminates content, it is not guaranteed that a particular feed can be successfully processed.

In-house we have a dedicated feed-testing unit duplicating the upstream section of a Flowrence unit that allows us to make a clear ranking of feeds, from easy to not-processible, without having to operate a complete catalyst testing program. With this approach, we can also quickly explore technical solutions or handling procedures to reduce the risk of failure during the real test.

By adding a feed evaluation stage in the customer project, before the catalyst test, the money spent was limited in case the feed was not processible. Furthermore, if the outcome were to be negative, the customer could have stopped the overall program before we attempted the full test.

Enabled by our Flowrence technology like active liquid distribution and individual reactor pressure control we successfully passed the stage gate and executed the program beyond the customer’s expectation. As a positive side effect, the valuable insights from the feed test were also used by the customer internally, improving their operational efficiency on their equipment.

 

 

Conclusion

Avantium’s approach of defining well-defined stage-gates for projects with a high degree of uncertainty in their outcomes enables the successful execution of projects otherwise considered impossible or inappropriate to outsource. Come and talk to us about those complex, uncertain catalyst research programs!

Flowrence® products specifications

Reactor Section

Easy and quick reactor exchange system. Possibility to use quartz reactors at high pressure.

1 block of 4 reactors

HT = High Temperature max. 800°C nominal, limited to 925°C (<0.5°C reactor to reactor deviation)

4 blocks of 4 reactors

HT  or MT = Medium Temperature max. 525°C (<0.5°C block-to-block deviation)

16 reactors with iRTC

individual Reactor Temperature Control
max. 550°C (<0.5°C reactor-to-reactor)

4 reactors with iRTC

individual Reactor Temperature Control
max. 550°C (<0.5°C reactor-to-reactor)

Temperature Ranges (°C)

100 – 800°C
up 925°C (Option)

50 – 525°C
100 – 800°C
up 925°C (Option)

50 – 550°C

50 – 550°C

Reactor Types

L= Length
OD= Outer Diameter
ID= Inner Diameter
SS= Stainless Steel (< 550⁰C)
Qz= Quartz (< 925⁰C)

L 300 mm 561 mm
OD 3 mm 6 mm
ID SS 2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 mm
ID Qz 2 mm 2 / 4 mm
300 mm 561 mm 561 mm
3 mm 3 mm 6 mm
2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 2.6 mm 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 mm
2 mm 2 mm 2 / 4 mm
561 mm
3 mm
2 / 2.6 mm
2 mm
561 mm
3 mm
2 / 2.6 mm
2 mm

Maximum Catalyst Bed Length

(isothermal zone tolerance ± 1°C)
Note: isothermal length is dependent on the temperature range

300 / 3 HT 561 / 6 HT
>120 mm @ 450°C >200 mm @ 500°C
>90 mm @ 800°C >150 mm @ 800°C
>140 mm @ 925°C
300 / 3 HT 561 / 3 MT 561 / 6 HT
>120 mm @ 450°C >310 mm @ 450°C >200 mm @ 500°C
>90 mm @ 800°C >150 mm @ 800°C
>140 mm @ 925°C
561 / 3 MT iRTC
250°C ±0.5°C 41cm (4reactors)
350°C±0.5°C 38cm (4reactors)
550°C±0.5°C 28cm (4reactors)
3 reactors at 550°C, 1 reactor 350°C:
550°C=27cm 350°C=41cm ±0.5°C
561 / 3 MT iRTC
250°C ±0.5°C 41cm (4reactors)
350°C±0.5°C 38cm (4reactors)
550°C±0.5°C 28cm (4reactors)
3 reactors at 550°C, 1 reactor 350°C:
550°C=27cm 350°C=41cm ±0.5°C

Catalyst Volume (mL)

(isothermal zone)

0.2 - 0.6 mL 0.4 - 2.0 mL
0.2 - 0.6 mL 0.4 - 1.0 mL 0.4 - 2.0 mL
0.4 - 1.0 mL
0.4 - 1.0 mL

Pressure Ranges (barg)

2 – 80 barg
0.5 – 180 barg (option)

2 – 100 barg
0.5 – 180 barg

2 – 80 barg
0.5 – 180 barg

2 – 20 barg
2 – 50 barg (option)

Reactor Pressure Control

Advanced control RSD ±0.1 barg at reference conditions (gas phase only and 20 barg). For trickle flow Advanced control RSD ±0.5barg.

Standard (±0.5 barg)
Advanced (±0.1 barg) (option)

Standard (±0.5 barg)
Advanced (±0.1 barg) (option)

Advanced (±0.1 barg)

Advanced (±0.1 barg)

Gas Feed Lines

(#Gas Feeds)

Up to 6 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 7 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 7 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Up to 6 + Diluent gas

He, Ar, N2, H2, CH4, CO2, C2H4, C2H6, O2/Inert (≤5%), CO, Other gases

Online Analysis

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation (option)

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Full integration GC, MS , GC/MS with data visualisation

Liquid Feed

 Split feeding 8 + 8 reators (option)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Pump-Coriolis dosing system
(ambient, cooled, heated 80°C)

Liquid Distribution

Microfluidic Distribution
(4-channel glass-chip)

Microfluidics Distribution
(4x4-channel glass-chip)
(16-channel glass-chip)
Active Liquid Distribution (option)
(with automatic isolation valves)

Active Liquid Distribution
(with automatic isolation valves)

Microfluidic Distribution
(4-channel glass-chip)

Liquid Sampling

(G/L Separation)

Parallel liquid sampling (4 x 20ml vials) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Automated liquid sampling (4 rows x 16 vials x 8ml) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Automated liquid sampling (4 rows x 16 vials x 8ml) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Parallel liquid sampling (4 x 20ml vials) with sequential on-line gas phase sampling (option)

Reactors Effluent Handling

(Off-line Analysis Connection)

Full heated circuit up to 180°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling (option)

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Full heated circuit up to 200°C with sequential on-line full gas phase sampling

Offline Analysis

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode (option)

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Integrated Workflow: SimDist, total S/N, liquid density, balance, label printer, barcode

Waste Handling

Ambient temperature
Heated wax trapping (option)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Ambient temperature / Cooled containers / Heated compartment (wax trapping, heavies)

Safety

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Gas sensors and control box (CO, LEL, VOC)

Flowrence® Software

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Flowrence® recipe builder, control & database builder

Microfluidics modular gas distribution

Unrivalled accuracy in gas distribution with patented glass-chips for 4 and 16 reactors, with a guaranteed flow distribution of 0.5% RSD. Quick exchange of glass-chips for different operating conditions. Flexibility to cover a wide range of applications.

TinyPressure glass-chip holder with integrated pressure measurement

Compact modular design for gas and liquid distribution. No high-temperature pressure sensors required. Quick exchange of the microfluidic glass-chips, without the need for time-consuming leak testing.

Tube-in-tube reactor technology with effluent dilution

Unique tube-in-tube design with easy and rapid exchange of the reactor tubes (within minutes!). No need for any connections. Use of inert diluent gas (outside of reactor) to maintain the pressure prevents dead volumes and back flow. Possibility to use quartz reactors at high pressure applications.

Automated liquid sampling system

Programmable, fully automated liquid product sampling robot for 24/7 hands-off operation. Robot equipped with a compact manifold aiming at depressurizing the effluent immediately after each reactor to atmospheric pressure. Eliminates the use of high pressure valves.

Reactor Pressure Control (RPC)

The most accurate and stable pressure regulator for a 16-parallel reactors with just ±0.1bar RSD. The RPC uses microfluidics technology to regulate the pressure of each reactor, maintaining equal distribution of the inlet flow over the 16 reactors.

Auto-calibrating liquid feed distribution, measurement, and control

Distribution of difficult feedstocks e.g., VGO, HVGO, DAO. Liquid distribution 0.2% RSD, making it the most accurate liquid distribution device on the market. Option to selectively isolate each reactor.

Single-Pellet-String-Reactors (SPSR)

No dead-zones, no bed packing & distribution effects. The catalyst packing is straightforward and does not require special procedures. A single string of catalyst particles is loaded in the reactors avoiding maldistribution, eliminating channeling and incomplete wetting.

EasyLoad®

Unique reactor closing system with no connections. Rapid reactor replacement minimizing delays, improving uptime and reliability. Stable evaporation by liquid injection into reactor.

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Avantium Headquarters

+31 (0)20 586 8080

Zekeringstraat 29
1014 BV Amsterdam
The Netherlands

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