Economic Feasibility of a Methanol to Dimethyl Ether Production Process to Avoid Contract Failure Shortfalls from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Date of Award
Our team entered the 2021 AVEVA Academic Competition, where teams of undergraduate senior chemical engineering students competed across the country. The competition was composed of two parts: the base case design and the optimization of a chemical process. As part of the competition, our team is acting as the Engineering team for a fictional company that has given us this project. Due to COVID-19, our methanol producing company has lost a contract with a customer, leaving 23,000 tonnes/yr of unclaimed methanol. We have two choices with this methanol: either sell the methanol on the market at the spot price for a loss, or turn the methanol into DME and sell this instead. This leads us to the first phase of the competition: the base case design of the proposed methanol to DME process.
The base case consists of five heat exchangers, a reactor, and a distillation column. At the conclusion of this design phase, our team concluded that the methanol to DME process was viable and able to deliver DME at the required purity, as well as found the minimum equivalent annual operating cost of the distillation column used for this process. From this, our Engineering team moved on the second phase of the competition: the optimization of the methanol to DME process. In this phase, our team was tasked with finding the best combination of available equipment rentals from a Toller, all of which had fixed dimensions and operational constraints. Our team used Toller’s equipment to make nine different equipment combinations, and determined that Reactor B and Column A were the best combination, giving the lowest annual operating cost of $688,000 (this value includes utilities and equipment rental fees). Using this combination, our team then performed a detailed economic analysis and considered process safety with the future set-up and running of this process. In the end, our Engineering team concluded that our company should indeed move forward with the methanol to DME process, since it can reduce profit loss from selling methanol at the contract price by approximately $4 million, turning a profit of $1 million for the company.
Noll, Jacob; Wasson, Robert; and McKinnis, Harrison, "Economic Feasibility of a Methanol to Dimethyl Ether Production Process to Avoid Contract Failure Shortfalls from the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2021). Honors Theses. 1797.
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