The chemical manufacturing sector we know today is built on centuries of advancements from alchemy, luminaries and industrial revolutions. As with most sectors, chemical manufacturing faces challenges around environmental concerns, safety regulations and public perceptions. These challenges alongside balancing economic growth and sustainability are driving ‘green innovation’. Ongoing advancements in materials science, nanotechnology and biotechnology offer safer, more sustainable, highly specialised materials and solutions to cater to the evolving needs of industry worldwide. Goodfellow, a trusted global supplier of high-quality advanced materials and expert technical services, provides solutions to chemical manufacturing challenges, applications and industry.
Chemical manufacturing is one of the most important global industries. The chemical manufacturing industry supplies all of the chemical compounds we rely on in our daily lives and for industrial processes. The global chemical market was worth over $4000 billion in 2020 and is still showing year-on-year growth, showing how absolutely essential chemical feedstocks are.
Key processes in chemical manufacturing include everything from raw chemical refinement, involving fairly basic processes such as distillation and cracking to extract chemicals from raw feedstocks like oil, to the advanced synthesis of fine chemicals such as pharmaceuticals. Manufacturing plants can vary greatly in scale, with some processes forming hundreds of hundreds of kilograms of product per hour and others just a few kilograms a day.
Challenges facing the chemical manufacturing sector
One of the key challenges the chemical manufacturing sector is facing is to ‘greenify’ processes. Green improvements in chemical manufacturing concern not just finding ways to reduce energy consumption, which, despite dramatic reduction over the last few years, still accounts for a large percentage of overall energy consumption in the EU and internationally. Green improvements also mean finding ways to recycle chemical waste, unwanted products and find alternative chemical feedstocks that are not reliant on petrochemicals.
Materials are still some of the most widely produced products in chemical manufacturing. This includes plastics and also other metal-based products, including aluminium alloys. Materials design and refinement for properties such as strength-to-weight ratios is also becoming an increasingly important strategy in helping reduce the energy consumption of the final manufactured product for applications such as in the aerospace industry.
Another challenge that the chemical manufacturing industry faces is the need for products for industrial equipment for manufacturing the chemicals themselves. Chemical manufacturing is particularly demanding for materials science as many industrial reactions require the use of high temperatures, pressures and corrosive compounds – and it is critical that the reaction vessel does not cause any contamination of or react with the final chemical product.
The greater the technical demands of the application, the more important having the right quality materials and chemicals and extensive quality control become. Goodfellow is an expert in custom materials provision and development and offers an extensive range of off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions to ensure you have the right materials for the job.
Alloys suitable for chemical manufacturing applications
Goodfellow offers a range of materials suitable for chemical manufacturing applications, including both metal alloys and ceramics. Nickel alloys, in particular, are very popular choices for chemical reaction vessels as they have outstanding corrosion resistance and are also resistant to fatigue even when exposed to very high temperatures.
Another advantage of alloys is that the material properties can be tuned depending on the exact blend of materials used. As well as a standard range of nickel alloys, such as Nickel 200/201, Goodfellow offers a superalloy, Inconel, in a range of grades, including 600, 625, 617 and 718. Inconel is a nickel-chromium-based alloy that boasts outstanding oxidation-corrosion resistance, making it an outstanding choice for particularly demanding chemical reactions and thermal insulation in extreme environments.
Other nickel-containing options include Hastelloy, which is often used as a more resistant alternative to stainless steel. Hastelloy is commonly used in the oil and gas industry, and the traces of molybdenum present in the alloy help give it even better performance in reducing environments than other options, such as Inconel, which performs better in oxidative environments.
Cobalt alloys, including Permendur and Havar, offer even higher melting points than nickel compounds and work well in additive manufacturing processes. The compatibility with additive manufacturing processing means that this cobalt-based material can often be used in components with more complex geometric demands that tend to be difficult to manufacture using other methods.
Havar alloys have particularly high mechanical strengths, making them suitable for a range of engineering applications. Its high corrosion resistance means Havar foils are often used to create diaphragms in pressure sensors in equipment that will be exposed to harsh chemical environments. The material is also biocompatible.
Zirconium can be an excellent material of choice when using highly acidic or alkaline environments, as its rapid formation of oxidation layers on the surface can prevent corrosion and damage from occurring in these chemical environments. One common application is using zirconium to line pipes that will be used for material transfer in chemical manufacturing plants as it is resistant to organic and aqueous acids.
Ceramics suitable for chemical manufacturing
Ceramic materials are one of Goodfellow’s specialties, with over 600 different products on offer. One of the advantages of ceramics over alloys is that they often have lower densities. Ceramic materials can be customised in a number of different ways, including in chemical compositions or the material structure to help tailor the material for the exact application, with many ceramics offering exactly the high levels of corrosion and temperature resistance essential for use in chemical manufacturing.
Contact Goodfellow today to make use of its expertise in finding the right material choice for your chemical manufacturing challenges.