Sustainability for Agriculture Irrigation


Did you know agriculture irrigation accounts for 70% of the water used worldwide? That’a a lot. At the same time, most of the world relies on flood irrigation to water crops as a more efficient alternative has proved elusive. Any innovations have not been widely adopted due to expense. Yet, one Israeli soil physicist has provided a sustainable solution in a tiny plastic widget.

This modest innovation in drip irrigation could forever change agriculture, especially in resource-starved environments.

In places where rainfall is insufficient, irrigation is critical. Despite all the innovation that has made its way into agriculture irrigation in recent years, 85% is still done by releasing vast quantities of water across the surface of a field. Yes, that’s the same way it was managed thousands of years ago.

Flood irrigation has hung on because it is cash cheap. However, from a natural-resource perspective, it is staggeringly expensive. As much as 70% of the water goes to waste. Plus, overwatered crops can fail to reach their full potential. Additionally, excess fertilizer is carried away by the runoff to contaminate streams, wetlands, and lakes.

Microdrip irrigation was supposed to solve all that

Yet today, while there are hundreds of drip irrigation companies, the technology is applied to less than 5% of irrigated acres globally. That’s usually to big-ticket crops such as almonds, wine grapes, and tomatoes. Cost is the limiting factor. The whole setup amounts to at least $2,000 an acre, plus energy bills. For lower-value crops such as cotton or alfalfa, drip irrigation simply does not pay.

The good news is that there is a new alternative. This season an innovative experiment is being installed by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) for various commodity crops. Israeli irrigation startup, N-Drip has developed a system promising drastic water savings without the prohibitive costs. We’re talking down from the $2,000 to $400/per acre.

In a standard drip system an emitter, about the size of a Tic Tac, is fastened inside every hole in those humble black plastic dripper lines. Water comes out in measured droplets as its movement is regulated through an exceedingly narrow, maze-like channel inside the emitter. The resistance produced is the reason so much pressure is required to move water from one end of a field to the other.

New innovation in agricultural irrigation

Now, along comes the new type of emitter with zero, yes…zero pressure drop. The many additional technical details are beyond the scope of this blog. But, Chuck Cullom of CRIT is convinced to give it a try. He told Bloomberg, he was originally “superskeptical…It sounded like a unicorn solution.” Yet, in 2020, CRIT Farms tried the system out on 40 acres of sorghum and “cut water use in half, while slightly improving the quality of the crops.”

The most crucial point is that an innovation, big or small, can have a major impact on society. Keep following this blog for more discoveries. And don’t hesitate your own innovative ideas with me too at [email protected]


Clarifying Process Liquids: New Approaches for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Applications

Image Source: IFN

How can the process engineer successfully automate the clarification processes to improve filtration while minimizing operator exposure? Over my career in solid-liquid separation, I've seen many examples of process engineers struggling with clarifying process liquids. In one resin facility, the slurry was in a formaldehyde process and the "masked" operators were opening up a manual plate filter to dig out the cake. In another case, during the manufacturing of zeolites, the client added another set of bag filters when the filtrates following a vacuum belt filter remained cloudy. To help address these kinds of issues, I recently contributed an article to International Filtration News on clarifying process liquids.

The article, which can be downloaded from the P&ID website, published April 5, 2022, concludes that when confronted with a clarification process, the one thing not to do, is to repeat the solution with more bag filters, more filter aids and more throwaway cartridges. It's better to take a different approach by conducting lab testing to analyze the cake structure, filter media, filtration pressure and cake thickness.

Approaching Process Liquid Clarification

A clarification system is employed after coarse-particle filtration or as a stand-alone system to remove or recover fine particles at low concentrations. The typical approach for fines removal/recovery has been bag filters, cartridge filters, manual plate filters and filter presses. A new approach is the use of automated, pressure-filtration, clarification technologies. The cake solids structure and the nature of the process determine which type of clarification system is appropriate for an application.

My article discusses two main types of automated clarification technologies, candle filters and circular pressure plate filters. I also go into detail about cake structure and lab testing, filter aids, and filter media.

The Candle Filter

A candle filter is a pressure vessel filled with tubular filters called filter candles (see Figure 1). A typical filter candle is comprised of a dip pipe to both flow the filtrate and pressurized gas, a perforated core with supporting tie rods, and a filter sock.

Figure 1

The Pressure Plate Filter

Like the candle filter, pressure plate filters (e.g. Figure 2) are comprised of filter plates contained within a pressure vessel. However, instead of vertical filter candles, the vessel contains circular-horizontal filter plates. These plates are conical-shaped slightly sloped, metal plates that support a coarse-mesh backing screen covered with filter cloth. An opening in the center of the plate allows the filtrate to travel between plates and out of the vessel. The filter cloth can be synthetic, as in the candle filter, or metallic as the cake discharge is by plate vibration or plate spinning.

Figure 2

Clarifying Process Liquids

This blog only summarizes the article. I hope you will read and download it from my articles page. When it comes to clarifying process liquids, there are many resources to do this work. You can explore materials from vendors, consultants, and published literature. With the data in hand, the process engineer can evaluate the different technologies available. It's going to take time to determine the most reliable and cost-effective option for a specific clarification process.

If I've learned anything over my 40 years in this industry, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I'd be happy to consult on your process liquid clarification conundrums. Let me know how I can help.

green process

Systems Integration Design & Gated Process Development   

green process

Recently I have enjoyed a rich collaboration Circular Economy and Closing the Loop in Case Studies    with Professor Ugur Tuzun of the University of Cambridge on the important topic of process systems and the circular economy. Our latest article, “Systems Integration Design for Chemical and Biological Engineers: Gated Process Development with Digital Interlinks for Bulk Chemicals and Specialty Products Manufacture,” appears in the Journal of Chemical Engineering & Process Technology.

The article discusses key systems integration concepts with respect to materials and energy flows in successive production units, process automation, and supply chain life cycles. It further incorporates green process and clean technology considerations. I hope you’ll read the entire article. But, just in case, here’s an overview.

To achieve green processing targets, many are including environmental impact monitoring and control as well as pollution prevention and emissions abatement technologies. These all require increased levels of coordination, communication, and functional integration of all the unit operations in a plant. In the paper’s two industrial case studies, bulk chemical and specialty chemical manufacturing exemplify these applications. Each case study contains a list of main practical indicators followed by a list of instructions for step wise design application based on the process flow sheets of specific industry applications.

Examples of Environmentally Friendly Plant Installations

The case studies also demonstrate the “open-ended” nature of idea generation and creative solution development necessitated by the complex systems integration design challenges for large-scale process applications. These examples build upon the “gated process development model” and provide a useful experiential teaching and learning tool for chemical and biological engineers.

A generic framework for gated process development is presented connecting pilot plant, demonstration plant, and commercial plant activities. Furthermore, the framework also includes energy and material life cycles and environmental impacts directly in tandem with the development from pilot scale to large-scale production.

The most significant benefit of this approach lies in the ability to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly plant installations.

You can read the full article online to further explore this topic. While the article focuses on operating companies, interactive digital platforms enabling “gated process development” could also be used to facilitate interactive teaching and learning of the dynamic systems development and integration. Professor Tuzun and I would welcome the opportunity to assist you. Please reach out to us.



process engineering partnership

Process Engineering Partnership Provides a Holistic Approach to Operations


process engineering partnership
Image source:

Process engineering cannot succeed in a silo. As I often say, it’s best to take a holistic view of process operations. To that end, I’m pleased to announce my new collaboration with Procegence. Let me tell you more about our process engineering approach.

Happily, one of my blogs on batch to continuous processing prompted Nima Yazdanpanah, President of Procegence, to reach out to me to discuss his work in the pharma and specialty and fine chemicals market. I always love it when I can talk process with another indusry expert. It turns out, at Procegence, he does computer simulation and modeling for process design, optimization, scale-up, and technology transfer for chemical and pharmaceutical industry and process unit operations such as filtration and drying.  

We discovered we share similar views on process operations. And our conversations led to his contributing a chapter to the new book I’ve edited for Elsevier. I’m looking forward to soon sharing the new text and his chapter on how upstream decisions impact downstream operations.

In the meantime, we’ve also been working together to benefit clients. Working in conjunction, we look at the entire process for optimization. We do not view the process as a “silo.” Instead we take an integrated continuous problem-solving approach. We uncover the cause of the bottleneck or problem and don’t just look at the symptoms. Together, we can analyze both the chemical process as well as the mechanical equipment to provide customized solutions to the chemical, food, pharma, and biopharma industries. 

Better Together

The Procegence and P&ID combined service portfolio enables companies to: 

  • adopt new emerging technologies
  • optimize their process, products, and equipment
  • reduce operation cost
  • improve yield. 

We cover a diverse range of unit operations and processes/products on reaction, crystallization, filtration, washing and drying, particle processing, and end-to-end processes. We have a flexible and client-oriented approach for providing tailored solutions for specific challenges. Our goal is to foster the knowledge-based process development Quality by Design (QbD) approach by consulting, training, and contract modeling.

About P&ID

Perlmutter & Idea Development (P&ID) assists with process and project development from reactions/mixing to filtration/cake washing/dewatering to final “bone-dry” powder. P&ID’s clients include startups and established chemical, pharmaceutical, energy, and engineering companies. The expertise covers a wide range of support through industry leaders in specific fields. If you are a supplier to the industrial community, our innovative, growth mindset can help you disrupt your market and achieve competitive advantages in new markets and new applications worldwide. 

With several decades of technical expertise and business experience, we bring innovative thinking, good questions, and active listening to every client engagement. P&ID recognizes it’s important to review facts and data and analyze decisions both at the plant or in the office. But we also value gathering inspiration from many sources before proceeding with definite actions. You may be ready for change, but your environment is changing more rapidly. We support your agility and flexibility with the know-how you need.

About Procegence

Procegence provides on-demand modeling and simulation services for the bio/pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries for process development and optimization. The Simulation-as-a-Service model empowers bio/pharmaceutical, CDMOs, CMOs, fine and specialty chemical, and vendors to reduce time to market, increase R&D efficiency, reduce R&D spending, and implement advanced manufacturing.

Our diverse modeling and simulation tools (multi-scale, multiphysics, and multi-domain) and capabilities cover the entire lifecycle of a product as well as process development. To support companies on their road towards efficient process development, Procegence offers comprehensive services for equipment sizing and characterization, scale-up, process development and integration, steady state and dynamic modeling, process control strategies development, risk analysis, developing multi-dimensional virtual DoEs, and CMC packages.

To find out more, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Take the Gold for Problem Solving — Olympic Style

This blog often shares perspectives on innovation and leadership, traits we see in spades during the Olympics. As this Winter Olympics unfolds in China, though, let’s discuss the awesome problem-solving skills of the Olympians and what we can apply to our own business endeavors.

The performances of Olympic athletes can seem unbelievable. Part of the joy of watching the Games is seeing these amateur athletes accomplish seemingly super-human feats. As we all admire the commitment and dedication it takes to reach their goals, these athletes must overcome adversity, injuries, failures, COVID and, yes, sometimes depression.

Although you may not be signing up to speed down a mountain on a skeleton crew or to speed skate around a compact, crowded rink, there are many parallels to draw between Olympians and successful businesspeople. Perhaps most importantly we are all driven to problem solve. The athletes need to solve problems to do with shaving off seconds, or landing a jump, or even getting safely to the games, while we back home regularly face business problems or chemical process problems.

Successful professional problem solvers share the following characteristics as Olympians.


Olympic athletes must persevere and have a long-term view to train for four years. Sometimes even longer. Businesspeople and process engineers have persevered through the unprecedented times beginning in 2020 and continue today to solve problems. I’ve written previously about a model of perseverance, Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Togo. This is a characteristic we can all continue to hone (athletes or not) to achieve our goals and meet unique challenges.


Olympic athletes train many hours per day and many days a week, normally for decades. Every aspect of their lives is dedicated to the pursuit of that gold medal. There is perhaps no better example of this than the athletes who will compete in March’s Paralympics games, also in China. They’ve taken problem solving to an entirely new level by taking obstacles and turning them into opportunity.

Similarly, those who are successful as process engineers or businesspeople must invest countless hours of their time in pursuit of success. Though I’ll remind you I’ve written about the need for balance too! Taking a break from it all can help clear your mind for problem-solving success.

Speed and Flexibility

As we watch the Olympics, we always marvel at the athletes’ speed and flexibility.  During COVID, we all had to quickly pivot to find ways to thrive.  Chemical startups were done remotely using cameras and sometimes drones while restaurants that normally made their money from indoor dining put their efforts into promoting take-out and delivery. Other businesses  seized upon opportunities with “speed and flexibility” to provide products and solutions over and above their competitors. This is problem solving at pace, and this kind of agility is essential as business evolves today.


Great teams have great leaders. Numerous gold medalists have taken time to thank their coaches and mentors who have helped them along the way. Indeed, it takes a team to build an individual winner.

Similarly, successful companies are often led by managers who set examples and inspire their employees to perform beyond expectations. I’ve written previously about leadership lessons we can take from the 1969 moon launch or just getting out there in the plant and walking around. I honestly believe learning in one field can become applicable to others. That’s why I follow the Olympic athletes with such awe and admiration, but also an open mind to what I can learn from their stories, struggles, and successes.


Athletes are, by their very nature, optimistic. Without the belief that they can win, athletes do not succeed.  Similarly, successful people are inherently optimistic.  No one looks at a process problem or business issue thinking that they will fail. Sometimes, we do fail, but then we learn. Think of troubleshooting a filtration problem, we have to go into that effort with confidence we can solve the problem. Otherwise, we’d just jettison the system and start all over again (insanity!).

Problem solving with P&ID

Of course, problem solving is what I do every day. The mission of Perlmutter & Idea Development, P&ID, is to (1) assist with process and project development from reactions/mixing to filtration/cake washing/dewatering to final “bone-dry” powder and (2) help you disrupt your market and achieve competitive advantages in new markets and new applications worldwide with innovation and creativity. We may not get to mount a podium and hear an anthem play, but together we can problem solve the winning solution to your process concerns.