Optimizing Distillation for Increased Methanol Capacity

Author: James Gremillion

When the process licensor designed your methanol plant, everything fit together to exactly produce the nameplate amount of methanol yearly. In the design there were necessary tradeoffs made because of costs, physical size, availability of materials, etc. In designing the distillation section, for example, the licensor did a calculation of how many theoretical trays were needed to produce the required product (how many theoretical trays to separate methanol and water, for example).

There are two adjustments that can be made to the distillation column to determine the actual number of trays from the theoretical number of trays. First is the tray efficiency. The higher the tray efficiency, the closer the actuals trays are to the theoretical trays. The second is the reflux ratio.

The reflux ratio is the ratio of the reflux flow (what we are putting back into the column to improve separation) and the total flow (reflux flow plus distillate [product] flow). The higher the reflux ratio, the less trays are needed to get the required separation. A high reflux ratio gives better separation but requires more energy. Continue Reading

Improving Pump Continuous Monitoring

Unless you are lucky enough to have a process that flows downhill, you likely have pumps moving liquids through the process. And if these liquids come in large volumes such as hydrocarbon movement and storage facilities, these pumps can be very large and dangerous should failures occur.

Emerson's Wally Baker


In a World Pipelines article, Flow management starts with pumps, Emerson’s Wally Baker describes how to improve reliability and efficiency through the effective use of instrumentation and control.

Pump flow managementPumps are large energy consumers and can be:

…prone to failure if not monitored and maintained correctly, with issues ranging from leaks to downtime.

When the liquid being pumped includes hydrocarbons and other hazardous, flammable, and/or toxic services, API Standard 682: Pumps—Shaft Sealing Systems for Centrifugal and Rotary Pumps governs their operation governs their operation. The 4th edition of this standard, revised in 2014, requires improved monitoring of the pump seal systems.

Large pumps in pipeline applications are typically monitored with many sensors. Wally lists main monitoring points:

  • Pump intake pressure
  • Pump intake level (of vessel feeding pipeline)
  • Pump discharge pressure
  • Pump differential pressure between intake and discharge
  • Pump motor temperature
  • Pump bearing temperature
  • Pump vibration
  • Pump seal system reservoir level
  • Pump seal vapor vent pressure

This revised API STD 682: Continue Reading

Answering the Challenges Refiners and Petrochemical Producers Face

The autumn season is officially here in the Northern hemisphere and this season is filled with events and conferences. I’m always amazed when I hear about some of my friends in the industry and automation trade press and their daunting travel schedules through the rest of the year.

Emerson's Tim Olsen


One conference that Emerson’s Tim Olsen shared with me is the September 26-28 American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers’ (AFPM’s) Q&A and Technology Forum in Baltimore. The conference explores many of the issues these industries face.

Achieving top quartile performance in today’s volatile energy market challenges refiners and petrochemical producers. These challenges include changing regulations, unpredictable equipment health, feedstock variability, and talent shortages. Also, the industry’s move toward opportunity crudes has also led to unique processing and downtime issues that erode margins and make production goals tougher to achieve.

Tim and several of his Emerson colleagues will be presenting at this event. Tim will preside over a plant automation: software applications session. This session features Pete Sharpe teaming with an expert from Praxair on a presentation, The Cloud is Here for Smart Manufacturing. Their abstract [hyperlinks added]: Continue Reading

Achieving Operational Excellence through Automation

Typically, you’ll find broadly used production and data management systems at the heart of effective operational excellence programs. These systems help to identify aging plant infrastructure before these assets lead to unplanned shutdowns, slowdowns and quality excursions. Much of the data that feeds these systems comes from the underlying instrumentation and automation systems.

Emerson's Chris Hamlin


Emerson’s Julian Annison


At next week’s Operational Excellence in Refining and Petrochemicals conference in Houston, Texas, Emerson’s Chris Hamlin and Julian Annison will lead a workshop, Automation: Your (not so) secret weapon for achieving operational excellence. Chris and Julian will explore what operational excellence means in a variety of industries and discuss the insights that can be applied to refining and petrochemical businesses.

They will engage workshop attendees to share their experiences and understanding of how automation and production information infrastructure can significantly enhance or inhibit performance. From this exploration, Chris, Julian and the attendees will collaboratively identify steps that can be taken to implement a systematic approach to model the value proposition, and then consider how to best secure business leader support. Continue Reading

Stories of Paths to a STEM Career

Over the past year, I wished numerous colleague happiness in their next phase of life, post retirement. The numbers will continue to grow as the baby boomers enter their retirement years. One of the things Emerson has been doing is promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to young people to encourage more to study and enter our profession.

Claire Cahill

Claire Cahill’s path to a STEM career

In our Emerson Exchange 365 community, we have a special Women in STEM group where women in our industry and beyond our industry have shared their path to a STEM-related career. Last week, in a post, Charting My Own Path in the STEM World, my daughter Claire shared her story. She works here in Austin for BazaarVoice, helping to optimize their cloud usage and other costs.

Check out Claire’s story and other great ones, such as:

…and many, many other great stories!

If you want to share your story too, please leave me a comment and we’ll work with you to make it happen.

Also, consider joining several other groups in the Emerson Exchange 365 community in your areas of interest.

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