What is Gained by Experimental Simulation of a Chemical Process?

matric_348-pick2-781x1024Simulation is defined in the dictionary as “imitation of a situation or the operation of a real-world process” or “the production of a computer model of something, especially for the purpose of study.”

Do you have a great idea for a new product or maybe you have a product that can be made by new raw materials, or by some new sleek, inexpensive process. How do you know if the idea will work? Will it really be less expensive than what everyone else is doing today? Will the product perform better or make less waste than other options?  How can I convince investors that they should adopt my product and process?

These questions and many more can be answered by simulating the product preparation process.

It is tempting to think that one can simply build a computer model of a process.  After all, you may have Aspen or some other similar chemical process simulator, so you think to yourself, “I can build the process and generate all sorts of results for many important variables (temperature, pressure, compositions, etc.).”  But a simulation is only as good as the model(s) being used.  Does the model really consider all of the interactions between chemical components in your system? Do you really know all of the chemical components in your system? Are reactions really known sufficiently to model what will happen over the range of conditions that you are interested in?  Is the model based on real data for the component mixtures that you will encounter? Are fluid flows, phases, and mechanics within the process vessels fully understood? Chemical processes are generally very complicated with many fundamental physical and chemical properties that are not entirely understood let alone able to be effectively modeled.  In all likelihood, there are many important parameters that are not known to you, and could conspire to prevent your product or process from being successful.  The reason most projects fail is due to insufficient testing and simulating of process concepts prior to installation and implementation.

Experimental simulation provides us with a real-world imitation of our process. It can also be implemented in segments to test multiple steps or sequences of the process before scaling-up to larger equipment or integrating all steps and recycles. Experimental simulation can be used to test alternative conditions or show the real effects of certain parameters. We can begin to reveal what parameters are really important for process performance success. If a process may be dangerous, experimental simulation may be engaged at very small scales first to validate key performance indices before scaling up to larger material volumes. Experimental simulations allow you to develop simplifying approximations (models), validate assumptions, and develop analytical methods to further develop your understanding of your process. The experimental results may be used together with computer modeling software such as Aspen to modify the models being used by Aspen as well as ultimately verifying and validating Aspen’s results.

There is no better approach than experimental simulation in evaluating real-world parameters important to chemical process performance. This is the best starting point to launch into understanding and obtaining answers that will make your great idea’s implementation a success.

— For additional information, contact Bill Etzkorn.