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Working Paper

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In recent years, the global market for polyethers has seen rapid expansion due to the growth of the construction, automobile, and foam industries. Polyethers are principally sold to polyurethane plants to produce a wide range of flexible and rigid foams that are used in a wide range of applications from automotive upholstery to inks. Consequently, the process for manufacturing polyethers is extremely vital to the consumer goods market and for maintaining the quality of life to which many people have grown accustomed. In this report, a plant has been designed in the Asia-Pacific region to produce 100 million pounds of a 3,000 g/mol polyether polymer per year. The process consists of five main steps: reaction, initiation, addition of propylene oxide (PO), elongation of the growing polymer chain, purification of polyether, and stabilization of polyether.

The key features in this process design include a pre-reactor for activating our glycerin initiator, two reactor vessels in series for the polymerization, and a continuous gravity decanter catalyst removal system. Multiple safety features were also implemented, including vessel purging and pressurized reactors to avoid leaks and keep PO in the liquid phase. Ultimately, our design produces three batches per day of 101,000 lbs of polyether for 330 operating days. Finally, using a three-pass water wash with 90% catalyst removal in each pass, the final purity of our polyether with respect to potassium is 0.9 ppm. The profitability analysis for the current design estimates an NPV of $30,378,100 and an IRR of 53.40%. The return on investment is 51.01%. Sensitivity analyses to operating cost and profit showed that the plant is robust even amidst market fluctuations, and the project is a profitable endeavor.



Date Posted: 21 April 2017