A chemical plant is an industrial process plant that manufactures (or otherwise processes) chemicals, usually on a large scale. The general objective of a chemical plant is to create new material wealth via the chemical or biological transformation and or separation of materials.
A chemical plant is an industrial process plant that manufactures (or otherwise processes) chemicals, usually on a large scale. The general objective of a chemical plant is to create new material wealth via the chemical or biological transformation and or separation of materials. Chemical plants use special equipment, units, and technology in the processes. Other kinds of plants, such as polymer, pharmaceutical, food, and some beverage production facilities, power plants, oil refineries or other refineries, natural gas processing and biochemical plants, water and wastewater treatment, and pollution control equipment use many technologies which have similarities to chemical plant technology such as fluid systems. Some would consider an oil refinery or a pharmaceutical or polymer manufacturer to be effectively a chemical plant.
Petrochemical plants (plants using petroleum as a raw material) are usually located adjacent to an oil refinery to minimize transportation costs for the feedstocks produced by the refinery. Specialty chemical plants are usually much smaller and not as sensitive to location.
Chemical plants typically use chemical processes, which are detailed industrial-scale methods, to produce the chemicals. The same chemical process can be used at more than one chemical plant, with possibly differently scaled capacities at each plant. Also, a chemical plant at a site may be constructed to utilize more than one chemical process.
A chemical plant commonly has usually large vessels or sections called units that are interconnected by piping or other material-moving equipment which can carry streams of material. Such material streams can include fluids (gas or liquid carried in piping) or sometimes solids or mixtures such as slurries. An overall chemical process is commonly made up of steps called unit operations which occur in the individual units. A raw material going into a chemical process or plant as input to be converted into a product is commonly called a feedstock, or simply feed. In addition to feed stocks for the plant as a whole, an input stream of material to be processed in a particular unit can similarly be considered feed for that unit. Output streams from the plant as a whole are final products and output streams from individual units may be considered intermediate products for their units. However, final products from one plant may be intermediate chemicals used as feedstock in another plant for further processing. For example, some products from an oil refinery may used as feedstock in petrochemical plants.
Either the feedstock(s), the product(s), or both may be individual compounds or mixtures. It is often not worthwhile separating the components in these mixtures completely based on product requirements and economics.
Continuous and batch operation
Chemical processes may be run in continuous or batch operation. In batch operation, production occurs in time-sequential steps in batches. A batch of feedstock(s) is fed into a process or unit, then the chemical process takes place, then the product(s) and any other outputs are removed. Such batch production may be repeated over again and again with new batches of feedstock. Batch operation is commonly used in smaller scale plants such as pharmaceutical or specialty chemicals production.
In continuous operation, all steps are ongoing continuously in time. During usual continuous operation, the feeding and product removal are ongoing streams of moving material, which together with the process itself, all take place simultaneously and continuously. Chemical plants or units in continuous operation are usually in a steady state or approximate steady state. Steady state means that quantities related to the process do not change as time passes during operation. Such constant quantities include stream flow rates, heating or cooling rates, temperatures, pressures, and chemical compositions at every point (location). Continuous operation is more efficient in many large scale operations like petroleum refineries. It is possible for some units to operate continuously and others be in batch operation in a chemical plant; for example, see Continuous distillation and Batch distillation. The amount of primary feedstock or product per unit of time which a plant or unit can process is referred to as the capacity of that plant or unit. For examples: the capacity of an oil refinery may be given in terms of barrels of crude oil refined per day; alternatively chemical plant capacity may be given in tons of product produced per day. In actual daily operation, a plant (or unit) will operate at a percentage of its full capacity.
Units and fluid systems
Various kinds of unit operations are conducted in various kinds of units. Although some units may operate at ambient temperature or pressure, many units operate at higher or lower temperatures or pressures. Vessels in chemical plants are often cylindrical with rounded ends, a shape which can be suited to hold either high pressure or vacuum. Chemical reactions can convert certain kinds of compounds into other compounds in chemical reactors. Chemical reactors may be packed beds and may have solid heterogeneous catalysts which stay in the reactors as fluids move through. Since the surface of solid heterogeneous catalysts may sometimes become poisoned from deposits such as coke, regeneration of catalysts may be necessary. Fluidized beds may also be used in some cases. There can also be units (or subunits) for mixing (including dissolving), separation, heating, cooling, or some combination of these. For example, chemical reactors often have stirring for mixing and heating or cooling going on in them. When designing plants on a large scale, heat produced or absorbed by chemical reactions should be considered. Some plants may have units with organism cultures for biochemical processes such as fermentation or enzyme production.
Separation processes include filtration, settling (sedimentation), extraction or leaching, distillation, recrystallization or precipitation (followed by filtration or settling), reverse osmosis, drying, and adsorption. Heat exchangers are often used for heating or cooling, including boiling or condensation, often in conjunction with other units such as distillation towers. There may also be storage tanks for storing feedstock, intermediate or final products, or waste. Storage tanks commonly have level indicators to show how full they are. There may be structures holding or supporting sometimes massive units and their associated equipment. There are often stairs, ladders, or other steps for personnel to reach points in the units for sampling, inspection, or maintenance. An area of a plant or facility with numerous storage tanks is sometimes called a tank farm, especially at an oil depot.
Fluid systems for carrying liquids and gases include piping and tubing of various diameter sizes, various types of valves for controlling or stopping flow, pumps for moving or pressurizing liquid, and compressors for pressurizing or moving gases. Vessels, piping, tubing, and sometimes other equipment at high or very low temperature are commonly covered with insulation for personnel safety and to maintain temperature inside. Fluid systems and units commonly have instrumentation such as temperature and pressure sensors and flow measuring devices at select locations in a plant. Online analyzers for chemical or physical property analysis have become more common. Solvents can sometimes be used to dissolve reactants or materials such as solids for extraction or leaching, to provide a suitable medium for certain chemical reactions to run, or so they can otherwise be treated as fluids.