Using process modeling tools to attain cost-effective results for GE customers

Sometimes, we need to look outside the box to realize the powerful tools we have inside. Such is the case with chemical process simulator software. This extensive collection of mathematical models addresses different physical and chemical phenomena and can be extremely valuable for chemical process optimization. Additionally, this software can help transform a simple technology or solution into a significant global process improvement for productivity and economics.

Taking a higher perspective

From a chemical process perspective, we commonly tend to optimize, or just improve, the performance of specific process bottlenecks. For example, we may create a new device or technology to reduce environmental hazards associated with a process in order to meet new legislation that requires a reduction in waste generation. Or, we may upgrade the selectivity in a catalytic reactor or the recovery of expensive compounds from a waste stream so materials can be reused. Although specific improvements are essential to achieving immediate optimal process conditions and better economic performances, it’s not until we look at these improvements from a global perspective that we can understand if they truly improve global process performance and economics. Thus, the perspective gained from process simulation can be crucial to defining the positive impact and benefits associated with the specific new development of a piece of equipment or technology. Taking a look at the big picture is exactly what we do when a process modeling tool is used. With it, we can visualize the effect of our focal point of development and whether or not it really improves the global process. Essentially, that big picture analysis will help us understand if what we are doing has significant relevance for the whole process or if we should refocus our efforts when the results are not significant.

At GE Global Research in Rio de Janeiro we thoroughly explore different process modeling alternatives to determine which experimental efforts will improve the customer’s production processes. Two key examples in which we apply these techniques are in the areas of sugarcane ethanol production and gas natural processing. In the first case, process simulation tools help to localize and define critical bottlenecks that could hinder substantial overall improvements. Process simulation shows how key technology developments in fermentation can provide notable downstream advantages as costs are reduced thanks to lower power requirements for distillation and even reduced liquid waste generation. In the second case, process modeling tools are used to identify the key role that ignored process steps have on natural gas sweetening and its associated energy consumption.  Simulation analyses of the whole process help us to identify essential developments for CO2 separation technologies and natural gas liquids separation that lead to higher natural gas recovery yields at lower power consumption levels.

When the process modeling’s critical steps are identified, we will know where to pinpoint our efforts. In so doing, we will be able to focus our research efforts, thereby improving our final products and generating cost-effective technologies for GE customers.