Project Synopsis

Build a generic and flexible biodiesel plant process simulation to improve and streamline the creation of plant design documentation packages, and do so across a wide variety of input variables. View simulation diagrams for various sections of the process; Transesterification, Methyl Ester-Glycerine Separation, Methyl Ester Drying, and Glycerine Soap Splitting.

Project Summary


The client designs and builds biodiesel production facilities worldwide and contacted Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) to build a generic biodiesel process simulation using PROCESS’ licensed commercial computer process simulation software, CHEMCAD.
The client required a simulation model that would perform calculations necessary to produce a mass and energy balance for their biodiesel plants based on user inputs.  The inputs represent project or client-specific conditions that depend on variables such as production rates, feedstock composition, plant location, etc.

The client desired to use the simulation model to improve and streamline preparation of Conceptual Process Design documentation.  This documentation may include:

  • Process Flow Diagram (PFD) stream tables
  • Process duties and conditions for Equipment Specification Sheets
  • Energy Usage Summary Table
  • Product Yield Summary
  • Additive Usage Summary Table (typically acids, bases, catalysts etc)
  • Vent Stream Characterization Summary Table
  • Waste Stream Summary Table
  • Utility Usage Summary Tables

In order to help the client streamline the production of such documents, PROCESS provided an Excel spreadsheet interface for the CHEMCAD simulation model.  This interface allows the user to load a CHEMCAD job, change model inputs in Excel cells, run the simulation and output results back to Excel.  The inputs and outputs to the model are fully automated so that the user does not need to interface with the CHEMCAD simulation “engine” that is running in the background.  Excel tables can be configured in any format to receive the model outputs and conform to client-specific documentation requirements.

Advantages of this Excel-CHEMCAD interface are as follows:

  • The user can run quick optimization and sensitivity studies to determine how certain inputs affect the mass flows and energy usage throughout the entire plant.
  • Several model runs, scenarios, or cases can be developed, allowing the mass and energy balance to conform to different design conditions.  For example, a mass balance scenario for vent stream characterization and design may be different than the typical PFD mass and energy balance used for normal production.
  • All knowledge specific to the process can be stored in the simulation for future reference.  For example, actual known process data or lab data for temperature-dependent physical properties, vapor-liquid equilibrium, reactor rate data, etc. can be regressed into the model and used in the simulation calculations so the model reflects real operating experience.  Over time, the model becomes the repository of information that reflects process expertise.
  • Cost data can be added to Excel and combined with model outputs to perform economic analyses for various model inputs.

Industry Type

  • Biodiesel Alternative Fuels

Utilized Skills

  • Bio-Refining process design
  • Biodiesel process design
  • Biodiesel process simulation
  • Process simulation spreadsheet interfacing
  • Process design method improvements

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