Case Study – Lab Scale System: University of Cambridge

November 14, 2011

Case Study - Lab Scale System: University of Cambridge

In 2011 Zeton was invited by the University of Cambridge to discuss and review laboratory scale solutions for using magnetic resonance techniques in a lab scale catalyst testing system. Read below to learn more about the custom lab scale system designed and manufactured by Zeton.

The ultimate objective of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology was to develop magnetic resonance techniques that could be used to spatially map chemical composition, concentration gradients, temperature and gas and liquid flow profiles within a working reactor.

The lab scale system needed to be capable of testing scaled-down industrial reactors as well as microchannel reactors across a range of sizes and scales. This was the first time that the University of Cambridge or Zeton had implemented this type of reactor design in a lab scale system.

Project: NMR/MRI Catalyst Testing System for University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)

Technical Specifications of Completed Lab Scale System:

  • A wide range of gas and liquid feeds
  • Liquid feed flow rate 2.5 – 125 ml/h
  • LHSV Max/min 10 – 0.2
  • GHSV Max/min 5000 – 5
  • Design pressure 30 barg
  • Design temperature 350 °C
  • LabVIEW from National Instruments Control System

More About the Custom Laboratory Scale Delivered:

  • The catalyst testing system consists of a traditional trickle bed reactor design with three gas feed systems, each equipped with parallel mass flow meters for a high rangeability in gas feed-rate;
  • The design allows for connections to a wide range of different gas and liquid feeds with the liquid feed being delivered by a HPLC pump under mass flow control;
  • The lab scale reactor is operated at elevated temperatures and pressures in either up or down flow mode;
  • A gas/liquid separator and product collection vessel were installed downstream of the reactor.

A unique design characteristic of the NMR/MRI catalyst testing system is in the way the Magnetic Resonance Magnet is integrated into the pilot plant – this required a special non-metallic reactor section operating at high pressures and temperatures, with localized heating.

“This is a very exciting development in our collaboration with Cambridge. For the first time we can use NMR techniques to follow a catalytic reaction under real operating conditions, and gather information on catalyst performance across a range of length scales”
– Dr. Andrew York, Johnson Matthey Technology Centre.

The Design and Build Process: Lab Scale System

The University of Cambridge and Zeton worked together beginning in the early stage discussions; in Phase I of the project, both parties worked collaboratively to develop the P&IDs based on a preliminary PFD and process description provided by the University.

While the design of the feed, separation and the product collection sections were relatively straightforward, an extra degree of attention was required to solve the reactor design challenges presented by this project.

When integrating a reactor section into an NMR spectrometer, several design criteria had to be met:

  • The temperature difference between the NMR spectrometer and the process area.  For kinetic experiments, it is essential to accurately control this temperature difference;
  • The more difficult was the non-metallic/non-magnetic requirements in the near vicinity of the NMR magnet.

Through the close and innovative collaboration between Zeton, the University of Cambridge and several key equipment suppliers these design challenges were solved:

  • To minimize interference between the process section and the magnet, the process system was built separately from the reactor section, with the two being connected via a “pipe bridge”;
  • Non-magnetic stainless-steel tubing and tracing were used as far as possible into the NMR magnet;
  • The center of the magnet required both non-metallic and non-magnetic materials. After an intensive study of alternatives, the team designed and built a special ceramic reactor for use under high pressure and high temperature conditions.

Once the reactor fabrication technology to be used in the project had been agreed upon, the NMR/MRI catalyst testing system was completed and delivered using Zeton’s unique fast-track project execution methodology.

“We have really appreciated the interactive nature of the design and development for this unit and the novel solutions that Zeton has used when facing very difficult challenges. We have ended up with an excellent piece of integrated equipment that has exceeded expectations on the design and control front. Zeton has built this research equipment to specification and in a challenging and unique way”
– Andy Sederman, Project Manager, University of Cambridge

Find out more about how custom integrated laboratory solutions can help you take your technology to market – connect with Zeton today.