During the 1990s process engineering was heavily invested in in Sweden, but lately the focus has been more on developing the product itself than its manufacturing process. With the Chalmers University of Technology Foundation’s initiative for process engineering, new knowledge and new possibilities will be made to streamline the chemical engineering processes. The investment made it possible for the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering to purchase new powerful magnetic resonance imaging equipment, MRI, which can depict non-optically available processes, enabling analyse in detail of what happens when, for example, chemicals are mixed into pulp or when medicine dissolves in stomach acid. Chalmers is one of a handful of universities in the world with similar MRI equipment, and this now give companies like Alfa Laval, AstraZeneca, Tetra Pak, Valmet, SCA, several new opportunities for collaboration with Chalmers in process engineering.
– With the facility, we will be able to contribute to more efficient use of today's process equipment because we will know more about what actually happens inside the device. We will be able to see what is relevant to improve. It may not be the mechanisms that we today think give effect that actually do, and process equipment can therefore be more expedient, says Bengt Andersson, responsible for the MRI infrastructure.
In multi-phase flow, ie process of material in multiple phases, for example emulsions or blends of liquids and fibres, using traditional methods, it is not possible to directly see what happens. The new MRI gives an opportunity to accurately follow the entire process. For example, in the case of paper pulp bleaching, it is difficult to see how the turbulent mixing occur, where it stands still and where it is most in motion. More knowledge can lead to better materials, but also better utilization of equipment in the process industry.
– The process industry has noticed that it is not enough only to buy new equipment to progress. They must also look at the equipment they already have and see if it can be used more efficiently. In addition, the materials are becoming so advanced that it is not enough to look at the final composition of the product. You also have to consider how the manufacturing process shapes it, says Professor Bengt Andersson.
In addition to the investment in MRI equipment of SEK 15.4 million over six years, the Foundation's commitment to process engineering also meant that both the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Maritime Sciences could employ a new research assistant each.
Text and image: Mats Tiborn