Science park aims to develop future technology skills

Paul Boughton

Body Content HereThe growing global dominance of Chinese and Indian chemical manufacturers coupled with increasingly stringent European environmental legislation, escalating waste disposal costs and far fewer disposal options have all led to pressures to reduce the costs associated with by-products from major product lines.
In many cases the prospect of having to deploy costly R&D resources – and the subsequent capital and operating costs – in order to extract, purify and recycle valuable components, rather than using the same resources to strengthen the core business or develop new products – is quickly seen to be a non-starter. Further, it may not even be certain that separation and the requisite purity demands are achievable. A finite risk of failure exists. The manager faced with the problem finds himself between a ‘rock and a hard place’.
Ideally he needs to find a contractor with the experience and skills to develop a viable process, to have immediately available flexible plant units of suitable scale, the skill to optimise and innovate and finally, the resources later to build and operate a dedicated plant safely and reliably into the future.
If the contractor is prepared to do this work on a no foal/no fee basis and only charge an agreed price for in-specification material, so much the better.
Firstly he needs the right experience onboard and laboratory facilities to carry out detailed work on methods of separation, knowing that what is successful in the laboratory will have to be scaled up directly into the immediately-available large scale plant. This in turn means that the available plant remains vacant at his cost until it is ultimately utilised.
But to subsequently utilise this same versatile plant to other problems, he will by then have had to design and construct a purpose-built plant for the original stream which works safely and efficiently under contract.

The engineering chemist

At the centre of all this activity the contractor needs to have an experienced technologist who can attend to all the problems, use all the skills he can muster and come up with the ultimate optimised full scale plant which he then has to oversee, to ensure that it is a success story. To ensure continuity of skills, young quality staff need to be recruited and trained up for future decades. Likewise the plant, buildings and other resources must be to the same standard so that the service provided is assured to be ongoing as a partnership with the principal company.
In 1990, The Science Park concept was conceived with precisely these objectives in mind. Building commenced at Middlewich, Cheshire, UK, 1991 and continues to this day. Over the years there have been many success stories for larger companies without any complaint, failure or accident.
The scale of projects has varied from developing a process and producing a few grams of high security dye up to an 8000ton triple project involving a difficult separation of elastomeric polymer solution into polymer powder and pure solvent, both being recycled.
In another situation where an American major was unable to produce a product which met its own specification, a new process was developed which met their specification and 20ton batches are routinely manufactured.
Sometimes it has taken a year for final plant and process design to be optimised with many engineering modifications. Sometimes changes in process and plant have been made where one good viable process is changed to another which is even better.
Since 1992 when 10 31cu.m.s.s. reactors were installed many smaller units had been added, covering virtually all the unit processes required. New laboratories at present are being completed for future environmental studies. A conference hall and catering facilities are nearing completion in which all aspects of environmental and technical nature can be promoted.
Probably unique in the UK, this centre is not profit driven and income is only generated by charges made for successful production.
The primary objectives include the development and promotion of greener technologies, co-operation with schools and universities, good relationships with the local community and overall, to strive to become a centre of excellence, in support of our declining chemical industry. The centre is currently developing new state of the art bio diesel production technology.

John Blundell is Chairman and Managing Director of Centec International Limited, Middlewich, Cheshire, UK.