Solid-Liquid Filtration

Fireworks & Filtration. Happy 2016.


Solid-Liquid Filtration
New Year’s fireworks in Singapore, a place I enjoyed visiting this year for Gastech. Photo credit: williamcho / / CC BY-SA

With 2015 drawing to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year. The release of the first edition of my Solid-Liquid Filtration Practical Guide for Chemical Engineers prompted me to start this blog.
So far, it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to expand on my belief that good solid-liquid filtration process engineers proceed with caution and test, test, test.
I’ve opined about the need for consistent filtration ratings, advised against being blinded by the appeal of an idea simply because it’s new, and discussed the need for solid thinking before scaling up.
At the same time, I’ve enjoyed sharing with you examples of the importance of creativity in our industry. I’ve also mentioned Sherlock Holmes’ methodologies once or twice (OK, maybe more than that) in examining choices in equipment selection and touting my own practical guide to Solid-Liquid Filtration.
Plus I’ve been able to write about some insights gathered from my trips around the country and internationally to learn and share research from my role as President and Managing Director of BHS-Sonthofen Inc., a subsidiary of BHS-Sonthofen GmbH.
In Bahrain I leaned about non-conventional approaches and the importance of looking behind the data. In Germany, I sampled the Weisswurst while exhibiting a new Rotary Pressure Filter design. While in Singapore I presented and gained greater understanding of the LNG market.
I also hope you’ve had some fun, as I have had, with posts about engineering pranks or soliciting your opinions for a “Rock Stars of Filtration” list.
I’ve already started thinking with excitement about 2016’s blog posts. Yet I invite you to make suggestions! In fact, I’d welcome guest blogger contributions. Please let me know what interests you. I’d be happy to discuss it further.

International Engineer Travel

Travel, Present and Learn. Join me.

I was in Singapore in October for the Gastech Singapore 2015 for a very interesting week learning about many things, including LNG engineering.
Celebrating 50 years as an independent nation, Singapore has been ranked the number one country for “ease of doing business” for the past nine years by the World Bank. Singapore is very cosmopolitan; you can see different types of people living harmoniously and easily interacting with each other. My trip included some wonderful sights such as the “Gardens by the Bay” and the Arts & Science Museum’s “Welcoming Hand.” I appreciated these both as engineering marvels considering environmental / sustainable objectives. And, yes, I also appreciated the excellent food with a diversity of choices including Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and, of course, the ever-present “fusion” which can mean whatever you like.

LNG engineering
The Garden at the Bay showcases energy efficient, sustainable building technologies .Photo credit: Craig Stanfill / / CC BY-SA

Gastech Conference Benefits
The cosmopolitan diversity of Singapore was also evident at the Gas-tech conference. There were exhibitors and attendees from around the world including the Asia-Pacific region, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Norway, and the US. In fact, the Black & Veatch booth was streaming live the World Series baseball match-up of the KC Royals and the NY Mets. Unfortunately, my beloved Mets did not win.
Technical conference sessions focused on gas processing, LNG engineering (as well as processing, floating, ships, facilities and infrastructure), natural gas vehicles, and offshore technologies. I learned LNG is about to enter a period of unprecedented growth with significant volumes of new supply about to enter the market. The estimated investment is over $2.5 trillion through 2025. Currently, there are over 400 LNG ships worldwide. The initial exports from the US should be in 2106 from the Sabine Pass facility in the Gulf Coast.
I presented in the Center of Technical Excellence (CoTES) a paper titled, Perlmutter Presentation at GasTech Singapore 2015 (pdf) The session was attended well, and I enjoyed fielding some interesting questions and comments. I was particularly proud to see this presentation was the only filtration one at Gastech — that’s a nice accomplishment for BHS.
LNG engineering
Singapore's "Welcoming Hand" incorporates solar panels and recycles rainwater.
Photo credit: Leonid Yaitskiy / / CC BY-SA

Why International Conferences Matter
Did I have fun? Yes. Did I learn? Yes. Did I expand my professional network? Yes. I can only continue to encourage all of my clients, friends, and colleagues to travel to international conferences such as Gastech to experience both the cultural and technical benefits of joining the worldwide process engineer community.
If you are planning to travel or submit to conferences, let me know your how I can help! Perhaps we can meet up at an international destination to discuss our shared interests, this blog and more!

The Engineer in the Wild

Business Week recently featured an excellent feature detailing the tragedy of Kate Matrosova. But what does that have to do with filtration technology?

Well, let's consider her story first. The 32-year-old trader with a love for adventure set out on an epic solo hike across New Hampshire’s mountains and encountered “the most hellish weather seen in many seasons.”

filtration technology
Photo credit: weesam2010 / Source / CC BY-NC-SA

Friends remember her as a brave woman with a power within her who, although equipped, was beaten by the elements. “It was a contest she could not win,” we’re told. It’s too bad. She sounded like a woman with a great deal of promise and a strong inner drive.

Yet, what does this sad end have to do with solid-liquid filtration. Treating her tragedy as a cautionary tale, the article put me in mind of certain advice in my book.

  • We can’t be so eager to accomplish something that we fail to follow proper procedures.
  • Don’t rely on experience and intuition alone.
  • Safety matters, so prepare for the unexpected.

As Sherlock Holmes himself might note, there’s no replacement for combining experience with careful planning. I put this view to work daily in filtration technology, but it's widely applicable. Let me know what you think!

Don't Jump. Look Behind the Data.

Engineers from all over the world have the same interests and problems: how to increase production, how to save costs, how to improve operations, etc.  My recent presentation at the Middle East Process Engineering Conference (MEPEC) addressed these issues with a new approach to MEG reclamation. But the conference was also an opportunity to think anew about process engineer responsibilities.
While in Bahrain for the conference, I had the chance to attend Sameh Abdulqader Younis' presentation on the “Non-Conventional Debottleneck Approach.” You know I love Sleuthing in Solid-Liquid Separation, and the Sherlock Holmesian approach, so I was intrigued immediately when the first point was: “Don’t Jump to Conclusions.”

process engineer responsibilities
Image source: Billy Wilson Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC

Sameh’s argument? For any process retrofitting and debottlenecking, we need to look at the process data and operating parameters — not as figures and numbers, but rather in a deeper and wider spectrum to see what is behind them. In certain cases, a piece of equipment may show a certain process constraint. Normally, a process engineer would conclude, "let us change it" and will start to look at the economics of making that move. Yet this approach, in Sameh’s words, should be considered “the Lazy Solution".
An alternative action is for the professional process engineer to take a "Non-Conventional Approach" by looking at what is behind the process data and the operating parameters. You might be surprised to discover new ways of overcoming such an equipment bottleneck.
The presentation noted this approach has been successfully implemented in industries where a plant throughput was increased by around 3-5% with savings in operational costs.  In other cases, while certain operating data may not represent a bottleneck as the plant has reached its maximum throughput, looking at the data again might lead to a modification that would substantially increase the plant throughput. We have seen cases where throughput hit 25-35% over and above the design capacity, with almost zero capital investment!
How to proceed? Take these basic steps:

  1. Review the design of the unit/equipment and compare it to actual conditions.
  2. Check if support units and downstream processes are being correctly utilized.
  3. Check for similar units and compare design data for each, even if they are not at the same throughput.
  4. Check for internals design.
  5. Do not jump to conclusions that debottlenecking the downstream units will be the solution to overcome the main unit in question.

This entire approach is dependent on the human ability to solve a problem. The MEPEC presentation, and my own blogging, endorse breaking the paradigm and looking for the what’s behind the numbers/instruments/data to understand the issues. Follow Sherlock Holmes and “do not jump to conclusions”, ”learn to tell the crucial from the incidental” and “follow checklists.”
Good luck in meeting your own process engineer responsibilities.  If I can be of assistance for your analysis, please reach out to me.

Always something new!

evidence-based process
Image source:

Put the “NEW” sticker on something and people are bound to look. In today’s society, we always want to be on board with the latest, the hippest, the most cutting edge __________(fill in the blank). This excitement about novelty also extends to process engineering doesn’t it? Sometimes at the expense of evidence-based process.
Who enjoys a new challenge? The latest BHS Filtration newsletter, A&SoF, focuses on “new challenges…and the development of new processes.”
An ACHEMA-2015 Decision Brief noted, “despite their innate conservatism, the chemical, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries are always looking for new products.” They’re driven by a need for improved efficiency, cost savings, regulatory changes, and a desire to be more environmentally friendly. Yet the impulse is the = better.
Also in the newsletter, authors from SEFAR AG, a leading filter media supplier, outline new possibilities in vacuum and pressure filtration. Highlighting and describing variables and performance criteria to properly select the most efficient filter media Bartholdi, Erlenmaier, Seitz, and Maurer, consider experience and expectations in addressing current demands and trends in various liquid-solid separation applications.
After all, it’s our job as process engineers to make sure the new = better mantra holds true. It’s up to us to take the time and demonstrate the diligence to insure a new process design is actually an improvement. New for the sake of new does no good.
Collaborating with professionals across several different cultures and with varying experiences is one of the best ways to make sure our desire for "new" accomplishes design improvements that actually do make a positive difference.
BHS prides itself on  evidence-based process development. We’d love to partner with you via lab and pilot-plant testing or in one our lunch and learn filtration brainstorming sessions. Just let me know!