Project Synopsis

Perform a process evaluation / risk assessment and develop recommended process modifications to support implementing the use of pure oxygen instead of air in a batch reaction process.

Project Summary


The client, a manufacturer of performance materials such as adhesives, coatings, and construction products, is headquartered in the Northeastern U.S. They currently produce a metal carboxylate product in an existing batch reactor system at one of their production facilities overseas.  Air is currently used as the oxidation medium in the manufacturing process.  The use of oxygen, rather than air, has been the subject of lab-scale testing.  Lab work on oxygen is being conducted to evaluate potential improvements (process intensification) to both reduce cycle time and improve product quality in the metal carboxylate manufacturing process.

Lab work utilizing oxygen in lieu of air in carboxylate reaction chemistry has generated very positive results.  As a next step, the client wished to proceed with an evaluation of the existing reactor system in the plant to identify potential physical and operational changes that would be required if this change was implemented on the full-scale production process.   Of primary importance is the safety aspect around handling pure oxygen and this was the focus of the evaluation.  To this end, Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) was contracted by the client to evaluate potential safety risks associated with implementing a process switch to pure oxygen in their overseas production facility.

The first task associated with this work was an evaluation of the existing production facility. This included a review of items such as a process flow diagram, material balances, batch sheets, production logs, piping & instrumentation diagrams, and the batch reaction chemistry.  This evaluation provided PROCESS with a thorough understanding of plant operations and the manufacturing process.

The second step was a technical evaluation on what would be required to transition the facility from using air as the chemical oxidizer to using high-purity oxygen.  The focus of this work was on “safe” operation. To minimize the risks associated with switching to an oxygen-enriched environment for the client’s metal carboxylate process using metal powder, a safety strategy of prevention was considered.  Such a strategy includes:

  • Controlling a flammable atmosphere using procedures given in NFPA 69 (Reference 4)
  • Identifying and eliminating potential ignition sources
  • Controlling static electricity by adhering to stringent grounding procedures and by limiting process fluid velocities in piping and equipment
  • Using materials of construction with minimal risk of being ignited
  • Maintaining clean, scale-free piping and equipment
  • Adhering to certain process design practices for minimizing risk
  • Developing Standard Operating Procedures and providing operator training for working in an oxygen rich environment.

Based on PROCESS‘ evaluation and on a preliminary checklist type of process safety review, PROCESS developed a list of additions and modifications recommended to reduce the risk of switching to oxygen. The additions and modifications recommended by PROCESS included: equipment items, procedures and standards, control valves and instrumentation, and changes to plant piping.

The impact of the results of PROCESS‘ evaluation was quantified by developing a cost estimate to implement the recommended facility modifications.  A Rough Order-of-Magnitude (±50%) installed cost for these modifications was estimated and presented to the client.

Industry Type

  • Adhesives and Coatings Manufacturing

Utilized Skills

  • Process evaluation
  • Process safety evaluation risk assessment
  • Batch process modification support.

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