Transparency and the Chemical Process Industry

Chemical Process Industry
Photo credit: GraceOda via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Transparency is good in government, public service, politics, your personal life, and — of course — in business. Think of buyers and sellers…EBay, Airbnb and Uber. We all want more transparency — especially in the current turbulent times. Transparency helps in information gathering, coordination, accountability and decision-making.

But what about in the Chemical Process Industry (CPI)? On one hand, transparency is important for safety and process development. Especially important is transparency in the case of experimental errors or in process equipment.

Mistakes happen

In all of our careers, there has been a time when a mistake happens, maybe a small one and hopefully not a big one. But, if it happens, maximum transparency is critical.

  • First, identify the mistake: Did the process fail? Was the sizing of the machine wrong? Was the application incorrect?
  • Next, apologize and propose a solution.
  • Finally, take action to solve the problem.

Transparency in CPI

Looking at transparency from another angle, sometimes more is better. In an article by McKinsey & Company focused on the “dark side of transparency” and its unintended consequences. The authors outline how excessive sharing of information creates information overload, endless debate and even possibly reduced creativity as ideas are squashed before they can be fully explored.

In the CPI, there are times when more is better and also when less is better. For example, in the relationship between the equipment supplier and the process development engineer, more transparency is better. The more the supplier knows about the process, the better the process solution. This can also reduce chances of the wrong application or wrong sizing, as discussed earlier, and avoidance of the need for an apology after a mistake.

On the other hand, less transparency may be necessary when it involves corporate strategies and competitive advantage. For process equipment, a new development or improved design leading to a unique process solution benefits the client and the technology supplier, but not the competition. The same is true of information shared by the client with the technology supplier. We sign many NDA’s today to protect the client’s strategies for new processes, new compounds, new markets, and new approaches.

What do you think, more or less? Every day we face these questions. Find me on LinkedIn and let me know your ideas and the skills that you have developed to get the transparency balance correct. Keep in mind, though, your comments will be transparent and may be shared with my readers, who also care about Chemical Process Industry progress.

Cruising Into a Future with LNG

liquified natural gas
Image source: Travel Weekly

In mid-April, I attended GasTech 2017 in Tokyo. The focus of GasTech was Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and its impact on the world’s energy balance, carbon emissions, and technology. Now, I didn’t take a cruise ship all of the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Japan, but there are some interesting overlaps between LNG and cruising.

Why Liquefied Natural Gas

First, we need to understand LNG and its growing market share.

LNG is an odorless, colorless and non-corrosive natural gas that has been converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. It takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state (cruise ship stewards likely wish human luggage could take up 1/600th the volume too!).

The liquefaction process involves removal of certain components, such as dust, acid gases, water and heavy hydrocarbons. The natural gas is then condensed into a liquid at close to atmospheric pressure by cooling it to approximately −162 °C (−260 °F); maximum transport pressure is set at around 25 kPa (4 psi).

LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. LNG is expected to hit 10% of the global crude production by 2020.

Yet LNG is also being used to power ships worldwide. There are 100 LNG-outfitted ships today with another 72 LNG-ready and another 100 in manufacturing. This growth reflects a demand for energy efficiency and new international rules on sulfur content of fuel.

Smooth Sailing for LNG Ships

The primary use for LNG ships today is car and passenger ferries. Cargo ships rank second, and now the cruise industry is getting into the action with 11 ships already on order. According to Travel Weekly, Lloyd’s Register predicts “there will be 653 LNG-powered ships of all types built between 2012 and 2025, including 25 cruise ships.”
Soon you’ll be able to cruise to the islands with more efficiency. Talk about a win-win proposition! Although a trip to Tokyo would be worth taking, even without the cruise experience – I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the trip in a future blog (along with some photos).

In the meantime, GasTech was a great learning opportunity. I enjoyed discussions of LNG technology, gas transmissions and pipelines, infrastructure to use LNG as well as operator training. Check out the website, http://www.gastechnews.com/. The conference, once again, showed how the world is tied together for energy and environmental issues. Let me know your ideas and LNG questions.

Build Your Library with Basics

engineering reference books

With the advent of e-books and our ability to access archives of trade magazines online, it’s become easier for engineers to have ready access to a rich, professional library. This is especially good if you had to complete some work during March Madness; hope you picked the winner in your brackets. Let me know how you did.

Nevertheless, it’s a great idea to build a library of engineering reference books all of your own. Dirk Willard, in a Chemical Processing article, suggests several key titles for a good start to a reference library. He includes:

  • Schweitzer’s Handbook of Separation Techniques for Chemical Engineers
  • Sinnott and Towler’s Coulson and Richardson’s Chemical Engineering Design
  • Walas’ Chemical Process Equipment: Selection and Design
  • Kister’s series of books on distillation
  • Lieberman’s A Working Guide to Process Engineering
  • Kletz’s series of books on process safety

He has several other suggestions as well and proposes scanning useful information from equipment brochures into pdf format to access them on the move.

But, do you know what’s missing? An essential guide to Solid-Liquid Filtration. It’s something that has long been absent from the offerings to engineers. That’s why I recently published a Practical Guide covering the basic principles and mechanisms of filtration to help engineers make the right filtration choices.

Solid-Liquid Filtration considers filtration testing including filter aids and filter media, types of filtration systems, selection of filtration systems and typical operating and troubleshooting approaches. This guide is intended as a framework for process engineers analyzing filtration for an operating bottleneck issue or a new process development problem.

For those who want to experience it, rather than read the book, I’d encourage you to sign up for one of our BHS Filtration workshops.

What are some essential titles you’d suggest I put in my own library of engineering reference books? Tell me in the comments below.