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Brown Puts Autothermal Processes in Context

The advantages of autothermal operation of chemical reactors are outlined in a recent prospective article by Robert C. Brown, director of the Bioeconomy Institute (BEI), Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. The article will appear in the Nov. 18, 2020 edition of Joule, which publishes research, analysis, and ideas addressing the need for sustainable energy.

Screenshot of the articleAutothermal operation can benefit a wide range of chemical processes. It combines energy-absorbing and energy releasing chemical reactions to control the temperature of a chemical reactor instead of removing or adding heat. Eliminating heat transfer simplifies reactor design and reduces costs. Furthermore, by eliminating the processing bottleneck that heat transfer often represents, the reactor can convert reactants into products at rates much higher than are possible in a conventional reactor of the same physical dimensions.

Such ‘’process intensification” is key to advancing industries that produce energy, fuels, consumer goods, and food products. Process intensification also enables modular manufacturing in which a manufacturing plant is constructed from factory-built modules that are shipped to the construction site rather than constructed from the ground up. Instead of capturing the economic advantages of a few very large plants, modular manufacturing captures the benefits of many smaller plants close to resources and markets.

Autothermal operation is key to BEI’s efforts in thermal deconstruction of biomass into biofuels and biochemicals. Its autothermal pyrolysis technology achieves several-fold process intensification. BEI is working with private and public partners on demonstration-scale projects of the technology.

For the full article, see Brown, Process Intensification through Directly Coupled Autothermal Operation of Chemical Reactors, Joule (2020),