Project Synopsis

Utilize client generated lab data of a novel biomass extraction process to design a pilot plant.

Project Summary


The client, a biomass processing company, contracted Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) to develop a preliminary pilot plant design for a novel biomass fractionation process.  In the process, biomass derived from annual grasses and/or certain tree species are fractionated via extraction into their principle components including cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.  These products are then supplied as feedstock for conversion to higher value materials. PROCESS completed the following tasks in support of this effort:

  • Design Basis - Lab/bench scale procedures and data were collected and organized into a process map. The process map was used to summarize the various lab scale operations used for biomass processing and product recovery.  Using this methodology the current state of the experimental process was outlined allowing for a clear definition of the required process inputs, operating steps, operating conditions, and process outputs.  The process map was then used as the pilot plant design basis.
  • Equipment Selection - Many of the lab scale processing steps were not directly transferrable to the pilot scale. Evaluations were completed to identify technologies capable of substituting lab methods without compromising critical operating variables.  Major equipment items were assessed in terms of their suitability, availability, flexibility, and their ability to be scaled for commercial production.  Where possible, trials were conducted with lab generated materials to determine capabilities of the equipment selected.
  • Process Modeling - The process was then modeled using licensed commercial process simulation software.  The model was developed using expected yields and recoveries for each process step and for the equipment selected, in order to determine an overall heat and material balance.  Also, using the model, requirements for previously undefined aspects of the process (e.g. solvent recovery, etc.) could be determined.
  • Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs) – PFDs were generated for the proposed process and equipment selections.  The PFDs were developed based on the primary processing route with additional capabilities built into the design.  The auxiliary features were included to allow for flexibility in feedstock selection and to facilitate ongoing research and process development.
  • Equipment List – Equipment given in the PFDs was summarized in the equipment list.  The list included preliminary selections for equipment sizes and design conditions as well as budgetary costs estimates.
  • Capital Cost Estimate - An order of magnitude, factored capital cost estimate was developed for the pilot plant design.
  • Production Cost Estimate – A product cost estimate was developed using estimated capital costs and raw material/utility usage data from the process model.

Results from milestone tasks were submitted to the client’s project team throughout the project to allow any recommendations to be incorporated into the final design.   The client then used results from the final design to evaluate options for funding and implementation.


Industry Type

  • Alternative Chemicals Manufacturing

Utilized Skills

  • Lab to pilot scale process design
  • Pilot plant cost estimation

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