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Chemical Technology

The challenge for Chemical Engineering science is more than ever to bridge the gap between molecule and chemical plant. Increasing environmental constraints impose a "molecular" control of any, either existing or new, production process. The Laboratory for Chemical Technology is one of the few in the world who can claim to cover the wide spectrum of competences required to be successful in this respect. The research is focused on the design of new and the optimization of existing industrial processes in the field of transport fuels, energy carriers and functional materials. New feedstocks, e.g. renewables, new processes, e.g. controlled radical polymerization, and new functional materials, e.g. nanostructured polymers are aimed at.

A common theme of the research projects is the development of multi-scale models of the relevant reactions and reactors with emphasis on the interaction between complex chemical kinetics and complex transport phenomena. A first principles approach is combined with experimental validation whenever possible.

Kinetic studies are not limited to the determination of empirical correlations between the reaction rate and the reaction conditions but are based on the fundamental knowledge of the involved elementary steps. When possible, ab initio calculations of rate coefficients are performed. A better understanding of the reaction mechanism is implemented in the kinetic models and is providing guide lines for product, catalyst and process optimization. The kinetic modeling of reactions involving several hundreds of types of molecules belongs to the specific expertise of the laboratory.

For the design and the simulation of industrial reactors, the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) approach is followed. The hydrodynamics of multiphase flow are investigated separately i.e. in the absence of reaction. Transport of energy, mass and momentum is described with commercial and in-house developed codes. The latter can handle both gas and gas-solid flow.

Heat and mass transport are described in both reactors and furnaces by CFD codes developed in house. Not only single phase but also gas-solid streams can be simulated.

Analysis and optimisation of (bio)processes

The research conducted at the BIOMATH research unit focuses on the development and application of advanced techniques for modelling, optimisation and control of bioprocesses in order to support required decisions in their design and operation. A current trend in modelling of bioprocesses is the use of more complex models. This is driven by increased availability of good quality experimental data (new and improved techniques), increased requirements of models (decreased model output uncertainty, new output requirements like energy and C-footprint) and increased computational power. Complexity can be added for description of unit processes to improve their design and operation. Here, thorough description of spatial and biomass heterogeneity need attention. Complexity can also be added by integrating existing models to account for their interaction when optimising the overall system. Here, a lot of attention has been devoted to coupling of models. However, a mismatch between submodels often occurs which results in erroneous model calibration. The increase of model complexity and the problems related to it are the current focus of research at BIOMATH. The current fields of application are environmental biotechnology, fermentation technology, food- and feed biotechnology. However, they can span the entire range of bioprocesses. The research unit is currently structured in 2 groups: integrated systems and sludge-water separation. An important asset of BIOMATH is the availability of a small laboratory in which computer-controlled experimental set-ups are used to test and validate the developed quantitative methods. For more elaborate experimental data, synergetic ties are sought with world-leading labs in experimental data collection.

Service provided by BIOMATH is: assisting in the development of mathematical models by interpreting experimental results and ^ combining this with in-depth knowledge of the processes by the domain experts.

Sustainability assessment

Clean technology is a holistic approach that pursues environmental performance at the production itself considering the resource intake, the production technology, the product-service relation, and the end-of-life fate of the product.

The EnVOC research is mainly oriented to environmental sustainability assessment of clean(er) technologies. In contrast to classical life cycle assessment (LCA) focusing on the reduction of impact of emissions, our concept puts emphasis on the resource intake pattern and on the overall efficiency of the production and consumption chain through exergy analysis (EA) and Exergetic Life Cycle Analysis (ELCA).

Today, the activities in this field are rapidly expanding through collaborations and implementations with world leading industrial companies, e.g. Janssen Pharmaceutica and Umicore, and the government/public sector. This work has also intruded into documents of the EU (see e.g. the recent "ILCD handbook" published by JRC-EU at section 3.12.8 Resources: "The most recent approach based on exergy is published by Jo DeWulf (Dewulf et al., 2007) and therefore included in the more profound analysis") and has been rewarded with the Prize of Laureate of the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences, granted to Jo Dewulf in 2008.

Biomass conversion

The mission of the Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass research group is the development and optimisation of thermochemical conversion technologies to renewable fuels, chemicals and energy from biomass. Regarding the thermochemical conversion technologies, the research is devoted to fast pyrolysis and catalytic fast pyrolysis for the production of liquid biofuels and chemical intermediates, to slow pyrolysis for the production of biochar and to torrefaction as a biomass pretreatment unit operation. Other technologies of interest include hydrothermal conversion technologies, torrefaction, gasification and post-conversion treatment of bio-oil, which includes upgrading and fractionation. The Department of Biosystems Engineering is also part of the UGent MRP (multidisciplinary research platform) ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ and plays a key role in studying production technologies of biochar out of agricultural and biorefinery residues. Biochar is the solid product from biomass pyrolysis and is intended to be used as a soil amendment. Biochar is a carbon rich material that is resistant to biological decay, unlike the plant biomass from which it is produced. Consequently, biochar has the potential to store carbon which has been removed as CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and prevents the rapid release of CO2 which would originate by biological decay if the biomass would be kept untreated by means of thermochemical conversion (i.e. pyrolysis).

CleanChem a Ghent University TechTransfer unit
Technologiepark 914 9052 Gent-Zwijnaarde