MCPI – The Business Case for Modular Chemical Process Intensification

RT-373 Topic Summary
RT 373


The emergence of chemical process intensification (CPI) and plant modularization, along with their beneficial synergies, has presented many chemical manufacturers with a unique opportunity for stepwise advancement. However, the sector needed economic case studies to raise awareness of the opportunities of CPI and to ameliorate excessive or unwarranted concerns about its technical or business risks.

This study’s primary objective was to raise awareness of the benefits and drawbacks of modular chemical process intensification (MCPI). The researchers sought to do this by conducting four case studies that contrasted the business case economics of MCPI case studies with the economics of comparable conventional stick-built (CSB) plants that were producing the same chemical product at the same production capacity. A secondary objective of this study was to identify which benefits and drawbacks were perceived to affect the projects’ comparative economics most significantly.

Before the analysts could compare the MCPI and CSB approaches for a plant project strategy decision, they needed to thoroughly understand and model the differences and similarities in scope bases: modular vs. stick-built scope, inside battery limits vs. outside battery limits scope, brownfield vs. greenfield conditions, plant spatial volume differences, the need for module numbering-up, manufacturing mode, availability of process intensification (PI) equipment, controls strategy differences, impacts on operator staffing, and differences in project pre-startup durations, among other basis variable parameters.

The case studies helped the researchers identify the following specific findings:

  • Adopting a continuous-flow MCPI approach to process design led to a dramatic elimination of equipment and a resulting reduction in CAPEX.
  • The sizeable reduction in MCPI plant spatial volume (or footprint) was associated with less work scope for interconnecting systems and reduced CAPEX.
  • The maturity of the equipment being considered for PI should be a key factor in assessing the business and technical risks of pursuing an MCPI approach:
    • For one case study, the overall PI equipment was not only smaller, but also readily available and significantly cheaper than CSB equipment.
    • Conversely, for another case study, the novel PI equipment was in its nascent stages of development. Thus, it was too expensive and consumed too much energy compared to its CSB equivalent.
  • Sizeable OPEX reductions came with the MCPI approach due to the reduction in the operator staffing required when converting from a labor-intensive batch process mode to continuous mode, or due to the reduced number of operating steps. The energy and consumable efficiencies of MCPI can also improve OPEX economics.
  • Traditional project investment economic measures strongly favored MCPI for three of the four case studies, yet MCPI’s economic advantages may have limitations when it comes to upsizing production volume via numbering-up. For numbering-up situations, larger-scale CSB solutions may still be preferable.

Finally, the team identified some of the key MCPI implementation barriers that had to be overcome: lack of institutional knowledge on intensification practices, lack of MCPI experience among design engineers and laboratory/pilot plant staff, and high resistance to change from the business unit’s technical and operations management.

Related Academic Publications (not published by CII)
CII does not review or endorse this publication, which was published independently, but added it here because it was directly or indirectly supported by the CII research project. Users may need to pay to access this piece.

Arvind, S. R., Haapala, K. R., O'Connor, J. T., and Paul, B. K. (2021). “Economic risk analysis for the capture of a distributed energy resource using modular chemical process intensification.” Journal of Advanced Manufacturing and Processing: e10096.

O’Connor, J., Kowall, C., Haapala, K., Agrawal, N. V., and Paul, B. (2021). “Specialty Chemicals Production Case Study: Economic Analysis of Modular Chemical Process Intensification vs. Conventional Stick-Built Approaches.” Journal of Advanced Manufacturing and Processing (accepted for publication).

Alhamouri, K., O’Connor, J., Haapala, K., Paul, B. (2021). “Natural gas processing case study: economic analysis of modular chemical process intensification vs. conventional stick-built approaches.” Journal of Advanced Manufacturing and Processing (to be submitted).

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : MCPI can dramatically reduce plant spatial volumes

As Figure 4.1 shows, for Case Study 1, the MCPI plant’s spatial volume was one 250th of a comparable conventional plant (FR-373, in press).

Figure 4.1: Plant Spatial Volume Comparison
Reference: (FR-373)

2 : MCPI can dramatically reduce project durations

Table 4.2 captures how Case Study 1 shortened project duration by 70% (FR-373, in press).

Reference: (FR-373)

3 : MCPI can dramatically reduce CAPEX

As Table 4.3 shows, on Case Study 1, the project CAPEX was reduced by 87% (FR-373, in press).

Reference: (FR-373)

4 : The Net Present Value and Payback Periods can be much more attractive for MCPI projects than for comparable CSB projects

As Table 4.4 shows, for Case Study 1, the MCPI project’s NPV was 90% greater and its Payback Period was 80% shorter than the CSB equivalent. Thus, the NPV to CAPEX ratio for the MCPI project was nearly 15 times higher (FR-373, in press).

Reference: (FR-373)

5 : Substantially smaller MCPI spatial volumes can greatly reduce the quantity and CAPEX for interconnecting systems like piping and electrical

Figure 6.6 shows some findings from Case Study 3, which drew upon data from more than 200 installations. For one train, CSB piping CAPEX was more than 36 times greater than that of MCPI (FR-373, in press).

Reference: (FR-373)

Key Performance Indicators

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Achieving Capital Efficiency with Modular Chemical Process Intensification

Publication Date: 08/2021 Presenter: Number of Slides: 32 Event Code: JC21