Integrated Polymer and Systems Engineering Group

The Laboratory for Integrated Polymer and Systems Engineering in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering undertakes multidisciplinary research in the areas of polymer and process systems engineering to develop sustainable products and processes that maximise efficiency and minimise environmental impacts.

Our research

Polymers Research

Our projects involve scientific and applied research on the synthesis of polymer colloids, and the modelling, optimisation and control of polymer manufacture via emulsion, dispersion and living free-radical polymerisation. These processes are environmentally beneficial due to the use of water as the dispersing medium and the modest temperature and pressure requirements. Our scientific approach to develop models using population balances and the governing transport equations for batch, semi-batch and continuous polymerisation is enabling fundamental understanding of the complex processes and enhanced product formulation. A number of postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers are working in association with the centre from Australia and overseas.

Particulate products are ubiquitous in the industry. Thus, we have engaged in significant research with producing particulate systems having the desired properties such as the particle size distribution, the molecular weight distribution, conversion, flow properties, etc. Many such processes lack the availability of on-line instrumentation for closed loop control. For example, the turbidity and (milky-white) appearance of polymerisation reactor contents preclude the use of light-based sensors for monitoring the status. Thus, inexpensive alternative means such as soft-sensors are being developed for this purpose.

Our research developments in modelling, advanced process control, fault detection/diagnosis and artificial intelligence are applicable to a number of complex systems, including the minerals, chemical, petrochemical and environmental processes. Our "soft-sensors" are finding increasing use with substantial benefits in process operation, optimisation and control in coatings, food and agricultural applications.
Projects in polymer

  • Model-based control of polymerisation reactors
  • Expert systems for polymerisation processes
  • Scale-up and coagulum formation in polymerisation reactors
  • Living controlled polymerisation.

Integrated Reaction and Separation Systems

Many industrially important chemical reactions are limited by the equilibrium conversion of reactants within a feed and product mix. For most chemical processes, the effluent from the reactor is separated into unconverted reactants, by-products and products. The unconverted feed is usually recycled, and the products and by-products are separated for meeting requisite specifications.

Process Intensification (PI) through integrated reaction and separation, presents one of the most important trends in today's process technology. It consists in the development of innovative processes that offer drastic improvements in chemical manufacturing and processing, substantially decreasing equipment volume, energy consumption, or waste formation, and ultimately leading to cheaper, safer, sustainable technologies.

This combining of the reaction and separation steps in a single unit operation known as reactive separation process (RSP) or integrated reactive separation (IRS) and the process unit is called a multifunctional reactor.

The potential advantages of process integration are:

  • Greater productivity
  • Higher selectivity
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Improved safety
  • Reduced catalyst requirement
  • Achieve difficult separations
  • Heat transfer integration
  • Avoidance of chemical wastes

Design and Operation

Despite the research effort on process synthesis over the last two decades, very few systematic procedures have been proposed for the synthesis of reactor-separator-recycle systems. Existing approaches often use heuristics.

The interaction of several process steps in a single equipment, the steady-state and dynamic behaviour of integrated process units are often much more complex than that of a single unit. Thus, methods for the design and control of integrated processes need development to ensure optimal operation of the integrated process. This project deals with the problem at the core of chemical processes - creating a structure for the reaction-separation-recycle system through innovative methods.

Integrated Design, Optimisation and Control
The emphasis in industry on energy savings, sustainable processes and environmental protection has driven process systems engineers, including design and operations engineers, to incorporate a number of crucial steps in developing integrated designs of chemical processes. Design teams are required to integrate the process with control to satisfy economic, environmental and social objectives, while at the same time achieving optimal performance.

Ethene Epoxidation
This work is addresses the advanced control and operation of the ethylene oxide reactor. Five key strategies were identified for this purpose and are outlined below:

  • Steady sate and dynamic modelling
  • CFD model of the shell side of the reactor
  • Process optimisation and advanced control
  • Data reconciliation and rectification