Unique and First of Its Kind Projects

As seasoned trailblazers, PreProcess has developed and delivered a wide range of unique and first of its kind projects. Many have been a result of meeting unique client needs and executing the most cost effective solution for the infrastructure and resources available while always delivering on cost, schedule and quality.

Consumer Product Projects

Multiple Filler Packing Line Liquid Feed System

Pressure control of a feed header to multiple packing lines must account for the fast dynamics of high speed filling systems. Large variations in the pressure leads to an imbalance in the filler speed to fill target performance. As capacity expands, the volume and speed of liquid required to respond to faster dynamics required an upgrade to filler header control. Novel algorithms and new fast acting and more precise devices were installed to maintain the quality and improve the performance of the filler feed systems at the higher capacities.


Targeted Viscosity Consumer Product Blending System

Viscosity modifiers are common in many consumer products. Using shear and flow control, a system was developed and installed to produce multiple products for the consumer market on the same equipment by varying the parameters to dial in the desired viscosity of the finished product without having to add different viscosity modifying ingredients and thus creating complex interactions and formula details to maintain the consumer experience with the family of products.


Light Weighting of Liquid Product Air Foam Blending System

Many consumer products weigh out a truck trailer prior to cubing out the shipping volume available in the trailer. Most times the packing materials are optimized to the level where no further opportunities for cost savings exist from continued lightweighting of the packaging. As trucking cost per ton continued to rise, a challenge was presented to lightweight many consumer product liquids and solids themselves to cube out the truck. This initiative lead to many formula developments in conjunction with process changes that led to more cost effective products while maintaining or improving performance for the consumer. One such case took a food product, which are known for complex taste and feel profiles, and it was lightweighted such that the liquid product contributed to significant weight reduction and cost savings while maintain the needed complex consumer taste and feel cues for the product.


Colored Particle Making in Situ Quick Change Processing System

Manufacturing and handling solid functional particles can be an expensive portion of a finished product formula card. Solid particles are common throughout the consumer packaged goods industry as they are one of the best ways to deliver concentrated functionality without having to ship the water that comes along for the ride with any liquid product. Many solid particles are diluted with solid fillers and substrates. In this project, a substrate was used to carry multiple functional formulas. The original system of blending premade particles with the finished formula was replaced by a system that manufactured the particles in situ with the base. The details are tricky as the distribution of the functional material is not as simple as blending in a liquid. Solid products have different particle size distributions and can striate and separate with varying concentrations becoming present in different parts of the package’s fill. The ability of the functional chemical to absorb onto the substrate without dissolving or degrading the substrate itself is also a concern. A system was developed and deployed at multiple locations that delivered the cost savings anticipated by the execution of the project.


Hydrogen Peroxide Consumer Product Blending Safety Handling System

Consumer products go through “herd mentality” trending of the latest and greatest ingredient. This leads to the need to execute quickly to take advantage of the trend. Many times, new chemical components have some level of hazard when used full strength, but the consumer product formula development efforts lead to levels in the finished product that is safe and effective for the desired consumer trend. The intermediate handling of the hazardous chemicals requires certain levels of system installation. The balance is meeting the needs of the hazardous materials code and standards without going overboard and spending too much money having to re-tool already installed infrastructure that may already manufacture multiple products. In some cases, systems are already installed that can handle the new hazardous chemicals, and in some cases the cost to integrate the new ingredient into the manufacturing system may lead to a detrimental cost burden on the product’s operating budget. Using targeted blending equipment and integrating the use of vacuum, high shear and pH into the existing system, a cost effective solution was deployed. This enabled the consumer product to be manufactured taking advantage of the trend of “peroxide, or oxygenated functionality (bubbles)” in various families of products.


Solid Oxidizer Making System

Oxidizing dusts are hazardous in many ways. Many different oxidizing solids exist on the market from powders, granules and pucks to various contained package materials. In each of these systems, the fugitive dusts that can be created in the manufacturing process must be controlled for employee safety at the plant and ultimately for consumer safety at point of use. Many times, solid oxidizers can also build up hazardous dusts that can lead to unanticipated incidents at locations in the plant not usually susceptible to product caused disruptions. Using Dust Hazard Analysis and other HAZOP (Hazard and Operability Studies) methods, a system was developed to mitigate the possible hazardous effects of the solid oxidizer product fugitive dusts.


Consumer Product Functional Formula Aerosol Blending Explosion Suppression System

Quenching an explosion saves lives. Systems are developed with millisecond response times by high speed instruments detecting flame fronts or pressure wave impulses. The response of these systems must consider the possible latency of the signals, algorithm execution and physical movements of the control devices in order to respond in the blink of an eye to a developing explosion. In aerosol filling, when using flammable can propellants, these controls are a matter of life and death. In this project a system was developed and installed to quench any possible explosion event. Half the battle with these types of systems is the re-training of the personnel to understand the environment in which these systems work. There is an increase in routine testing, validation and readiness of the installed systems as part of the heightened need for more rigorous maintenance. This ensures that the systems are always at the ready and that no lapse occurs in the protections expected to be available in the system.


Solids Slurry Rheology Control System

Rheology is viscosity of fluids at certain shear conditions. Fluid flow is one of the most ubiquitous functions throughout any chemical plant. Moving slurries with various properties requires design that considers the fluid properties at the different shear rates that the material will experience throughout the system. Adding various particles and processing the mix with certain shear rates, shear history and concentrations led to the ability to produce multiple consumer products requiring various fluid rheology for different market opportunities on the shelf.


Quick Change Nonwovens Product Functional Product Component Addition System

Nonwovens have become a staple for many everyday use cleaning products. Commonly, these manufacturing systems are organized into two blocks of integrated machines. The first forms the nonwoven substrate itself winding up on parent rolls. A second block of integrated machinery unwinds and finishes the parent material into the finished form. Functionality can be added to the material at various stages in the equipment. Fiber and binder usually is part of the first block. Finish and functional additives are usually part of the second block. This two block approach led to limitations on various product builds and a complicated management of materials. This project added quick change components to existing integrated machines allowing for the modification of various aspects of the parent or finish at various stages in the production. This led to a more cost effective manufacturing system as material management becomes simplified. The campaigns of specific products in the family set became quicker to change over leading to more responsiveness to market demand.


Milk Production HTST CIP and COP System

An HTST, High Temperature, Short Time, system is used to pasteurize milk. An arrangement of common production equipment surrounds the HTST plate and frame heat exchanger. Milk product solids build up as biofilms on equipment contact surfaces. These biosolids must be chemically and physically removed from the surfaces so that residual biofilms do not harbor still active biological agents that can contaminate the pasteurized milk. Systems for both clean in place (CIP) and clean out of place (COP) were developed and installed. This better balanced the needed pH cycles of the HTST system delivering cost savings by reducing the volume of needed reagents and reducing the cleaning cycle time.


Nanoemulsions

Many active pharmaceuticals ingredients are not water soluble. In order to deliver the API into a biological system, it must be broken down into derivative water soluble components. Another approach is to create a nanoemulsion that enables the API to act like it is water soluble. This increases the bioavailability of the API in the target. Nanoemulsions are usually clear versus the more common milky white micro emulsions. This project developed the unique surfactant package combined with the needed shear energy to produce a stable nanoemulsion for a water insoluble API.

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Environmental and Hazardous Material Handling Projects

Chlorine Tank Car Unloading Safety System

Hazardous material safety has been a hallmark of projects over the years requiring strict adherence to rigorous development methodologies. The added experience with many HAZOP studies like What If Analysis, The Guide Word Approach, and Failure Mode Effects Analysis leads to mitigation projects for the systems. In this project a new control system was developed and deployed throughout a chlorine handling system at various locations resulting in reduced workplace hazards and a lower the risk of an environmental release of chlorine.


Online Chlorine Reaction Control System

pH control is one of the tougher online systems to implement. Adding the complexity of ORP (oxidation reduction potential) requires development of a responsive algorithm, selection of appropriate inline instruments and the installation of precise control devices. In this project these requirements were met through a rigorous and detailed design build workflow that delivered tighter and more responsive control of a chlorine reactor. 


Caustic Unloading Vacuum Unloading and In Situ Blending System

Safe dilution of caustic to formula blends for consumer products requires management of the heat generated by the dilution. This, coupled with the desire to reduce employee exposure to the chemical, led to the development and installation of an automated system using gravity and vacuum to blend the materials to specification remote to the already established main blending process area of the plant.


Flammable Materials Eductor Blending System

Handling flammable materials effects the classification of the work area. A classified area limits the specific devices that can be used. Many times, existing installations manufacture non-flammable products. Many times, formulas may add a flammable ingredient that when mixed into the liquid formula, the resulting mix is rendered non-flammable. In order to minimize disruption to the existing system and to avoid having to upgrade of non-classified equipment to a classified functional equivalent, a technique was developed to blend the flammable ingredient down to a non-flammable level outside of the existing unclassified control area. Controls systems using vacuum and novel approaches to the failure modes possible met the local regulations and delivered a more cost effective solution than rebuilding much of the existing infrastructure of the manufacturing facility.

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Chemical, Manufacturing, and Mining Operations Projects

Biomass Carbonization System

Carbon is one of the world’s most prolific raw materials. It is used in a wide range of industrial and consumer products. Carbon comes in many forms. High surface area is one of the hallmarks of the material that gives it such wide versatility. Carbon from biomass is manufactured using various techniques to control the degree of conversion to solid fixed carbon. This project developed a system that dialed in various control parameters to enabling naturally variable biomass materials to be converted into consistent carbonaceous material for use in finished products. Uniquely able to balance the partial conversion and heat balance with the quality of the finished carbon material, this led to a more cost effective process to convert the biomass to the desired intermediate materials.


Lightweight Functional Particle Production System

Agglomerating smaller particles into larger functional particles requires the use of binders and some level of compaction. Usually these products have a certain range of expected weight to volume ratios that is determined by the desired strength of the particle and its attrition resistance. By carefully controlling the binder selection combined with the use of novel pan agglomeration techniques a new lightweight functional particle family was developed that allowed a series of products to be built from the method. This led to lightweighting of various consumer products delivering cost savings and consumer convenience. 


Solids Blending System

Liquid blending makes use of the solubility of various materials in each other or of solid dissolution into liquids. A uniform solution can be developed and the concentration throughout the liquid mass can be considered consistent when well mixed. Solid blending is different. Solids can separate and segregate. Many times, the particle size distribution and the specific way material is transported can separate different components in the solid formula. Uniform blending is dependent on controlled movement through geometry that minimizes dynamics in the transport phases. In this project, different arrangements were developed and using air and mechanical agitators with specific geometry and consistent uniform blending was delivered to the finished consumer product package. The sampling and measurement techniques are also a challenge in solids blending. This project also had significant sample taking, sample preparation and analytical measurement method development to ensure that the desired finished product characteristics could be measured and controlled.


Supercritical Biodiesel Production System

This project delivered the world’s first commercial scale supercritical biodiesel system. Using high pressure and high temperature, waste trap grease was transesterified without the need of a caustic or acidic catalyst. The product was delivered to a major terminal and blended as part of an early B5 biodiesel blend to the market. The system made use of a series of packed bed reactors developed specifically for the process.


Biodiesel Sulfur Sorbent Removal System

As the specification limit for sulfur in diesel fuel was reduced from 500 ppm to 15 ppm, the challenge that faced many producers was removing the sulfur without the use of of a hydrodesulfurization system. Large petrochemical refineries have this unit as one of the first in the complex train of processes, but many smaller emerging biodiesel companies could not afford to make this type of investment. A hydrogen activated reactor catalyst was found and applied to remove the residual sulfur from the biodiesel product. This allowed the use of the waste trap grease feedstock for the system lowering product costs and opening the use of this waste material as a fuel feedstock.


Rare Earth Element Caustic Extraction Production System

Traditionally rare earths are extracted using a first step that roasts bastnaesite. This step creates a great deal of SO2 that requires environmental mitigation and leaves a significant amount of rare earth in the ore after leaching. To avoid the SO2 formation, and to improve the rare earth recovery, an alternative process was developed, scaled, and installed based upon patent art that was first claimed in the 1960s. Using the old school approach, but applying new equipment, reagents, and techniques, the effort yielded a successful new process to extract the rare earths with higher recovery at a lower cost.


Rare Earths Oxidation Separation and Chlorine Management System

Rare earth element separation is usually based upon the affinity of each element to a proprietary liquid extraction process. Since the rare earth elements (the lanthanides) are very similar in physical and chemical structure, the liquid liquid extraction method requires many stages. It has been successful at commercial scale for many years, but it requires a significant installed equipment base. Using the unique oxidation states of the lanthanides, a new separation process was developed and installed enabling the reduction in the use of the liquid liquid extraction step. The negative with this process is the need to handle the formation of chlorine in the process. This was easily accomplished by applying common chlor-alkali technology that has been in use at industrial scale for many years.


Brine Purification for Chlor Alkali Feedstock Preparation

Like location, location, location in real estate, brine purity is the single most important factor in any chlor-alkali process. In a water restricted environment, water recovery and recycle is critical to the successful operation of a chemical plant. Extract only what has value and then recycle and reuse as much of the water as is practical. Since various constituents are carried and collected by the water streams in the process, they become brines. When the brine can be purified and the remaining majority constituent can be electrolyzed, production chemicals are available for use in other parts of the plant. In a concentrated sodium chloride brine, the water can be recovered as the dilution reagent for the hydrochloric acid, caustic and sodium hypochlorite products of electrolysis. Using this technique enabled the closure of the plant water balance and reduced the operating cost for the overall process by the self-production of needed reagents. The critical step to enabling this electrolysis process was the ability to purify the brine through a series of precipitations, membrane and resin systems to meet the stringent requirements of the feedstock to the electrolysis system.


Lithium Sorbent Extraction System

Packed column separations are common in the chemical process industries. In many applications the unique properties of a packing or resin has an affinity for a certain constituent. Developing this affinity into a commercial scale operational sequence to load, strip and concentrate the targeted constituent allows the economic extraction of many materials. One of the most sought after materials is lithium for use in cathodes and electrolyte for energy storage devices. Lithium extraction using sorbents has been practiced for many years in existing lithium operations. The continual drive for improvement in capacity and selectivity of the sorbent has led to many unique and novel systems to drive more favorable economics for the systems. Using a built particle approach, this project improved the performance of lithium extraction sorbent particles leading to cost savings in both capital and operating budgets.


Lithium Hydroxide Electrolysis Process System

Lithium carbonate has been the workhorse intermediate material of industrial commerce in the lithium industry. In recent years, great interest has been focused upon lithium hydroxide product. Lithium hydroxide is produced using electrolysis. Using the rules of common chlor alkali processes where brine purity is the single most important factor for success, many sequences of unit operations have been developed to purify lithium containing brines to a level where they can feed lithium hydroxide electrolysis systems. In this project, chlor alkali design bases were developed, a system built and operated to produce lithium hydroxide. Some of the unique differences that had to be addressed were the constituent purification sequence, the concentration of the brine to electrolysis levels, and the moving of significantly more water across the electrolysis membrane than is found in common sodium chloride chlor alkali processes.


Targeted Constituent Precipitation System

Precipitating constituents from solutions has many established techniques and uses many types of common equipment. The conditions and dynamics of precipitate nucleation drive the effectiveness of the operation. The goal is to precipitate only the targeted constituent with the least amount of co-precipitation or liquid solution entrainment in the precipitating particle. The particles also must form to be of a size and shape that allows straightforward solid liquid separations. In this project and unique geometry and novel nucleation material was developed to enable the efficient precipitation of a targeted constituent. The process parameters and the recycle rate of the nucleating species enabled the low entrainment and coprecipitation undesirable byproducts.


Cross Flow Filter Mining Solids Removal System

Filters work well when the flux is reasonable across the filter cake build up, and the conditions of the slurry being filtered remains constant. Filters have a determined cycle time. Systems are designed to allow for the need to switch between the batch sequence stages of the filter operation required while keeping the system able to support the overall continuous flow. Longer cycle time leads to higher capacity and lower cost both in the capital and operational budgets. Conditions that allow unstable buildup of solids that change the flow pattern and flux lead to ineffective separations. In many cases energy or additional equipment to enable the separation must be added which increases cost. In a cross flow arrangement, the slurry is kept at high velocity with a minimization of the dead legs where particles can trap, build up and create flow disruptions that impact the effectiveness of the separation. This project delivered units making use of common equipment arranged in such a way that the separation remained effective throughout the improved and higher capacity cycle time of the system.


Packed Bed Column Hydraulic Bumpless Transfer Control System

Hydraulic disturbances in a chromatographic separation system leads to muddy and less selective separations. A packed bed column’s effectiveness is dependent upon the ability of the column to maintain the highest mass flow driving force between the fluid and the constituent capturing particle. If back mixing of the fluid is allowed, then the driving force is reduced and the cut of the stage of the separation sequence overlaps with the previous and subsequent cuts. This muddies up the cut and leads to less pure and less selective concentrations of the targeted constituent desired in each cut. Many of these systems have high flow rates and the frequent switching of valves drives a disturbance at the interface. This project delivered a unique bumpless transfer control of the fluid flows. As the flows switched between lines, ramp rates of the pumps and the gate to gate closure times of the valves were coordinated. This allowed the switching logic to insure that fluids flowed between pipe cavities with the least possible hydraulic disturbance to the flow through the packed bed.


Mobile Lithium Extraction System

A system for the extraction, purification, and concentration of lithium and other constituents from a brine that can be constructed in a mobile unit placed for use at a wellhead. Targeted constituents are removed by arranging interdependent unit columns and membranes in a specific sequence with parameters developed from the characteristics and conditions of the feedstock brine. These units are mobile and be transported to the wellhead site for campaigning of the wellhead brine production based upon the schedule of operations and favorable characteristics of the brine at the wellhead. This project more fully utilizes assets and allows for the flexibility of calling for equipment where and when it is required in comparison to the conventional fixed place systems for well head brine operations.


Industrial Hemp Automotive Part Making System

This project connects American agriculture with higher value high tech products. Hemp fiber is the strongest natural fiber known. It has antimicrobial properties. It has a good fiber length. Using hemp fiber in combination with thermoset resins allows the production of new composite materials. These composites can be formed into auto body pans. The fiber can be laid into an entangled nonwoven and then needle punched to create an insulation material of various thickness and density. This insulating matt can be used between the auto body shell and the auto interior finishes. The hemp hurd can be converted into carbon materials for use in battery anodes and supercapacitors.


Industrial Hemp Energy Storage Device Making System

Hemp maintains open pore structure as the material is carbonized. This project makes use of hemp’s high surface area to volume ratio enabling local sites for charge storage. Chemical energy storage can be accomplished with batteries through electrolyte transfer. Electrical charge collection for energy agglomeration is available for supercapacitors. The project developed a bench process to convert hemp to an anode. Using common nowoven roll coating equipment and tuning the blend with binder, carrier and viscosity modifiers produced a thin layer can be printed on a on substrate. Yield is low and more work is needed, but the concept is proven and is ready for commercialization.


Industrial Hemp Sorbent Chemical Separation System

Combining the learnings from projects in different industrial space leads to many new applications across industries. In this case it was found that industrial hemp has an affinity for various targeted constituents. Using techniques of packed bed chromatographic separations, a system has been developed using a built particle sorbent that can target selected constituents depending upon the conditions and formula of the particles manufacture with industrial hemp as one of the formula components.


Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Polyhydroxylalkanoates (PHAs)

Using field crop sources of sugars this project produces polylactic acid (PLA) and using similar seed crop sources of seed oils to produce polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). PLAs are the most prevelant biopolymer in use. The market is short supply and is predicted to continue to be short as use increases. PHAs are the possible future replacement biopolymer for certain current PLA applications. The PLA plant can campaign or convert to a PHA plant with a refit of catalyst and adjustment of unit operation conditions.


Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL)

This project produces fuel and chemical products using Hydrothermal Liquefaction. The feedstock is low value field crop and agricultural production waste. The fuel is sold into broad markets including the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard market. The production qualifies for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program increasing the value of the fuel sold in California

It also qualifies for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard trade in Renewable Fuel Identification numbers again increasing the value of the product.


Organic Molecule Production System

A novel processing aide was identified for use as an improvement to a natural foods product. The molecule required a series of organic synthesis reactions and separations. The key to the economics was the solvent recovery and reuse in the process. A process sequence was developed using common reaction techniques. The system made use of a series of existing equipment adding the only the needed equipment to better recover the solvents and ensure the quality of the desired product.


Solids Feedstock Essential Oil Extraction System

Liquid solid extractions are common using various solvents. The key to this project was delivering an economically viable extraction process using process conditions as the primary driver for the extraction efficiency versus the usual use of different solvents to deliver the desire essential oil. Using control of shear and column pressure, a significant improvement in mass balance of the system was realized.

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