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July 1, 2014
This is my fiftieth editorial in Chemical Engineering. There have been several surprises, going all the way back to the beginning in 2010, when I was first asked if I would like to author a monthly editorial. I said that I would, but only if I could inject some “personality” and “funny stuff” into the editorials. My first editorial debuted in the March 2010 issue of CE. Since then...
June 1, 2014
At the 2011 Spring AIChE meeting (Chicago, Ill.), Sean Hennigan of BP gave a presentation regarding a column troubleshoot that yielded a counterintuitive result. A column bottleneck was ultimately traced to the presence of a vacuum cleaner in a tray downcomer. I wondered out loud, after that presentation, whether all tray downcomers should be equipped with vacuum cleaners to reduce liquid back-ups. At the...
May 1, 2014
FRI is lucky to have survived a simple valve-tray project. A few years ago, the low-pressure (LP) test column stood empty, because there were no trays ready to be installed. The intention was to install a set of new valve trays of a very simple design, but when the column was empty, neither a design nor the actual trays existed. It took five months for the trays to be designed, drawn, fabricated, shipped...
March 1, 2014
About thirty years ago, my golf foursome learned an important safety lesson and we credited the Dalai Lama. We were all big fans of the movie “Caddyshack.” In that movie, Bill Murray’s character talks about caddying in the Himalayans for the Dalai Lama and states, “So I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one — big hitter, the Lama...
February 1, 2014
I felt somewhat insulted when he said, “At universities, we do the difficult work and we leave the easy work for industry.” I had asked a question of a speaker at the November 2013 AIChE meeting. The speaker answered the question. Then, a gentleman in the first row chimed in with his “difficult/easy comment.” For most of my career, I have performed research and development work for...
January 1, 2014
FRI’s membership has been growing steadily since 2006. As a result, I have more bosses every year; at present, 78. I receive input from them in several ways. They attend quarterly meetings. They respond to surveys and votes. They send emails. They call. Primarily, this column describes the projects that are presently of the most interest to the membership. In 2013, 8-ft-dia. two-pass valve trays were...
December 1, 2013
Capital cost calculations I recently read the article “Capital Costs Quickly Calculated” [ Chem. Eng., pp.46­–52, April 2009] and find it extremely informative and useful. I have reservations about the example given about the cost comparison of two spherical storage tanks. The authors state that the costs of spherical storage tanks are proportional to surface area, therefore, to the...
November 1, 2013
It is with extreme reticence that I author this page, even though I received permission several months ago to do so. FRI had a near miss in 2010, which was identical to a near miss that occurred in 2007. In the safety world, such things should never happen. In 2007, FRI was running butanes in its high-pressure test column. A gasket blew, releasing butanes to the atmosphere; the butanes did not ignite...
October 1, 2013
Distillation and absorption are back. The AIChE Spring Meeting (San Antonio, April 28–May 2) proved it and the fall meeting to be held in November will muffle any doubting Thomases. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I spent appreciable time on acid-gas absorption. I knew the amine and hot-potassium-carbonate processes fairly well. I remember giving an absorption presentation at a large Canadian...
September 1, 2013
Many chemical engineers study or employ distillation trays, gas-liquid separators and spray nozzles. Most of those engineers have studied or employed force balances around liquid droplets suspended in upward-flowing vapor streams. Considering a droplet of size “ d, ” for the droplet to be suspended motionless, the summed forces of drag and buoyancy must equal exactly the force of gravity. At...
August 1, 2013
The AchemAsia exhibition and conferences ( are a pretty good guide to trends in the chemical process industries (CPI) in China. Held every three years, you can measure changes simply by studying what is on show, and what delegates have come to hear. When the 15,000 or so attendees came to Beijing this past May, one of the biggest things on their collective mind was environmental protection...
August 1, 2013
I was at the local Panera Bread. I almost screamed. I would have, except there was a sign on the front door that said “Positively No Screaming.” I was sitting within earshot of a junior-high-school science teacher whom I did not know. She was describing to a friend the details of a unit that she just taught on “chemicals.” She implied to her students that there were no good ones...
July 1, 2013
During my youth, as a mass- and heat-transfer R&D manager, there were 12 occasions when new technologies were sold for the very first time. One or two of those technologies might have been considered “breakthroughs.” The others were very significant twists on well-established technologies. Of the 12 first-of-a-kinds, 11 were sold to companies outside of the U.S. More on that later. One new...
June 1, 2013
There is an emerging crisis brewing for the chemical processing industries (CPI) in many regions of the world. Those regions include China, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse; swaths of the U.S., including large parts of its South; and chunks of Europe. For once, the crisis has nothing to do with energy costs. The emergence of cheap shale gas in the U.S., and the identification of exploitable...
June 1, 2013
Seeking input on distillation education Right now, distillation engineers are extremely busy — globally, and especially in the U.S. The AIChE Distillation Symposium (May, San Antonio, Tex.) that was organized by Henry Kister and Mike Pritchett had an amazing number of presentations and attendees. FRI is the world’s premier distillation research facility. FRI engineers who teach a separations...
June 1, 2013
Have you ever participated in a team-building exercise, the type where Human Resources personnel teach a group of individuals how to work better together? I’ll bet that during my career I participated in about ten such exercises, but right now I only remember two. The Men-on-the-Moon exercise was a great one. You were asked to imagine that you had crash-landed on the Moon and you were allowed to take...
May 1, 2013
Lessons learned Your Editor’s Page in today’s Chemical Engineering [March 2013, p.5] intrigued me because I too served as a TA in a physical chemistry lab but long before 1980 and we did not have the luxury of a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer. But you certainly have the experience to comment on the following: The earth, according to Weil’s law at an average temperature of...
May 1, 2013
Some injuries are permanent; some injuries are total. People who work for, or near, small companies need to be protected just as much as those associated with large companies. Small companies, however, usually cannot afford to employ full-time, certified, degreed, safety professionals. From my own career experiences, it seems as though a company with less than 50 employees cannot afford to employ an expert...
April 1, 2013
Respiratory Protection* ... OSHA requires employers to institute engineering and work practice controls as the primary means to reduce and maintain employee exposures to air contaminants to levels at or below the OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs). Primary reliance on engineering controls and work practices is consistent with good industrial hygiene practice. OSHA also relies on traditional adherence...
April 1, 2013
In his keynote presentation at this year’s ARC Forum (February 11–14, Orlando, Fla.;, Andy Chatha, president and founder of ARC, stated that there were over ten billion WiFi-connected devices in 2012 and that over 50 billion are expected by 2020. He called this the “era of connected devices” and introduced the concept of information-driven manufacturing (IDM), where...
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