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What you seem to be asking for is an answer(s) to a rather large question.

e are systematic ways to go about process design but most really good process en
gineers have developed skills along the way that facilitate the process but perh
aps are not easily described. I am going to sketch for you a 10,000 ft view of
the process of developing a chemical process. You need to know that not am I a
chemical process engineer with more than 20 years in the chemicals and fine chem
icals industries, I am also a chemist with many years experience in new products
development and process analytical work. My experiences include Quality Engine
ering for Energetics for defense industries and Six Sigma coordination for the s
The first step of process design is to define what it is you wish to accomplish.
You mentioned an esterification plant. What ester do you propose to produce.
Research how that product can be produced and is produced if produced commercia
lly. A process description is a good place to begin. You can leave some things
undefined or posed as questions to answer. What is the chemistry to be carried
out in this process? You may have more than one route to this product. Write
down the chemical equations. Esters can be produced by direct esterification of
an organic acid by an alcohol in the presence of a suitable catalyst or esters
can be produced by transesterification of another ester or by a Tischenko conden
sation of two aldehydes, or by a Cannizarro reaction, or by a variety of other p
rocesses. Your process description might be the proposal to evaluate the produc
tion of the desired product by two different methods. Describe what feedstocks
are needed (including catalysts), what assay is needed for each, and potential s
ources of the raw materials.
Once you have the what and the chemistry defined, work on defining what engineer
ing operations might be required. An example might be receipt, storage, and fee
d equipment for raw materials, a reactor (CSTR, etc.) for the reaction, purifica
tion equipment for the product, equipment for any recyles and waste streams, and
bulk storage and loading equipment for finished product. At this point you sho
uld be able to draw a block diagram of the process. The process description sho
uld contain a preliminary block flow diagram that will be built into a full proc
You can spend more time researching how some of the unit operations might be acc
omplished in your process. For a simple esterification plant producing a produc
t such as butyl butyrate you might need bulk storage for n-butanol and n-butyric
acid, a CSTR for a reactor, and distillation columns to purify the product. Di
stillation could include low boiler removal, high boiler removal, and product pu
rification to a sales spec. There could be a recycle of n-butanol and disposal
of waste products as well.
You need to spend more time studying what potential byproducts can be made in th
e process and in collecting physical properties of all the compounds in the proc
ess. Now you begin to develop a more detailed process flow diagram. Bulk stora
ge tanks for raw materials and products need to include purge/vent systems for b
lanketing and emissions from the storage tanks. The reactor should include any
operations to heat and/or cool the reactor or any of its streams and the pumps t
o feed, circulate, or remove product from the reactor. Distillation columns sho
uld include condensers, reboilers, and process tanks as well as pumps. Put toge
ther a more detailed process flow diagram.
Next you need to describe how each unit operation will function in the process.
This can be data from literature sources, bench scale or larger work, and from
process modeling of the process sections with Aspen or Chemcad or other package.
This is where the property and VLE data you collected is put to use. You may
begin to appreciate other operations that may be needed. In n-butyl butyrate it
may be possible to decant some water from the reactor product and to make an es

ter/hiboiler split by taking low boilers and the water/ester azeotrope overhead
in a distillation column. Low boilers might be separated from the ester in a se
cond distillation column as their water azeotropes with an ester cut as a base v
apor takeoff. The required separations, including all known byproducts, have to
be defined from some source. At this point one can produce a fairly detailed p
rocess flow diagram with a wealth of information on it.
At some point one needs to do a theoretical balance around the process assuming
100% stochiometric yields and the process capacity. This could be done at the b
lock diagram stage.
Once the unit operations have been defined, a detailed mass balance including re
cyles and waste streams is to be done to show reactor yields and losses across u
nit operations. This will establish mass flow rates through the process and raw
material requirements. An energy balance has to be done next.
I will stop for now and complete this later if it appears to be what you are loo
king for.
You seem to have some parts of the design process in mind since you mention a ha
zop study. A hazop study is done when you have the process defined well enough
for the study to be meaningful and to contribute to the design process.
Let's pause a moment and cover something that you know before starting this proc
ess; the site where such a plant could or will be built. Is this a grassroots e
ffort? or an extension of an existing plant? or a conversion of an existing plan
t? The answer will influence several things in the process design.
Let's consider that you have a process description, property data for chemicals
involved, process chemistry, block flow diagram, semi-detailed process flow diag
ram, theoretical mass balance, unit operations modeling, and a site. Now a deta
iled mass and energy balance based on the process flow diagram, the reaction yie
lds, and the unit operations engineering yields has to be built. Process condit
ions (pressure, temperatures, flows, etc.) should be noted. The mass balance sh
ould be by component.
List what utilities will be required for the process. Electricity for pumps, in
struments, etc. What will be used to heat or cool process streams. Closed loop
cooling water system, river water, steam, hot oil, etc. Instrument air and com
pressed air. Nitrogen for blanketing. Where will these utilities come from? t
ie-in to existing facilities? new facilities?
The process diagram needs to be broken into sections for P&ID's. Moderately det
ailed P&ID's should be developed for each section. Items from the following con
siderations will be added to the P&ID's.
ENVIRONMENTAL: Will this plant require a permit? Will it be a new permit or a
modification of an existing permit? What will be the disposition of vapors from
process vents? process wastes?
SAFETY: Where will relief valves or rupture disks be required? What will be th
e bases for sizing the devices? Platforms, ladders, and process flooring must b
e built to standards. Are there other safety issues?
MATERIALS OF CONSTRUCTION: what materials are required for equipment, piping, u
tilities, etc. You will need to determine where corrosion can occur and what ma
terials are appropriate for each service. If organic acids are to be used in an
esterification plant, one should know that dilute amounts are very corrosive on
316 SS. Typically the service may require something like Sandvik 2205.
INSULATION: Where will insulation be used? what type. One needs to be concern
ed about under insulation corrosion also particularly with mineral wool or Calsi
INSTRUMENTS: What type of control system will be used with this plant? DCS? S

ingle loop controllers? PLC? What instruments will be required with each unit
operation for level, flow, temperature, pressure, etc.
Pumps: what types and sizes of pumps will be needed for each application. Cons
ider mechanical reliability here in the sealing and flush applications.
Equipment Sizing: You should begin to estimate the size of reactors, distillati
on columns, heat exchangers and other equipment that will be needed in the proce
Information from these items should be included on the P&ID's that you are compi
When the P&ID's are as well defined as one can make them, a hazop study can be d
one. The question to be asked is, "what are the effects of deviations from desi
gn intent" If a heat exchanger loses coolant flow, what is the effect and are t
here any process alarms or actions needed for this possibility.
You are also ready to begin the process of estimating the cost of the process.
One can use the module/factor approach and arrive at a budget estimate. It has
been my experience that cost estimates, once given, are never forgotten. It has
been my practice to try to produce a 10% estimate if possible. You have a weal
th of detail at hand by now. Equipment estimates can be obtained from vendors.
Knowing the site and the equipment layout, you can begin to estimate lengths of
pipe, conduit, etc. The Richardson system is a method that allows one to make
a semi-detailed capital estimate of the components, labor, and indirect costs as
sociated with a project.
I know there are many other details that I have not spoken of. You will need to
incorporate them as you come across them. Engineering standards and approved v
endor lists for your employer have to be followed. Try to bring some improvemen
t to as many of the unit operations as you can.
If you are starting from scratch, and none of this information is available, the
n you need to sit down with the development chemist(s) and determine exactly wha
t he/she does in the lab and why. It's important to understand what he/she find
s easy to do and what is difficult. This isn't necessarily the same on the plan
t. Some things are easy in the lab, but very difficult on the plant (i.e. solid
s handling), whereas others are easier on plant than in the lab.
Then define a very basic flowscheme. What you are trying to do is copy what is
happening in the lab on a larger scale. Don't try to size individual items of e
quipment, yet, and don't try to add instrumentation - unless it will help you un
derstand how it will work.
Once you have a basic outline you can start adding details.
As epoisses says, the most important thing is to keep discussing it. Show your
outline to the chemist(s) and get feedback on it. They (or you) may have forgot
ten something. It's very important to work as a team. They will most likely be
proud of what they have done, and seeing what looks like a plant based on what
they have done will give them a buzz. Take advantage of their enthusiasm!
Talk to others as well, people with experience of the chemicals or of the proces
s (of developing a chemical process from scratch). With their help, you can sta
rt adding equipment sizes and the detail you need as described by bchoate above.
Don't forget, that most companies have several decision gates in any project. D
on't get into too much detail before you are certain that the project is going a
head to the next stage. Doing a basic outline first will enable you (or someone
else in your company) to come up with a rough cost, and, equally important, how
long you think it will take to build. Feeding this back to the decision makers
will give you an early indication as to whether this project is really going to
happen or not. This is very important - it can save you a lot of time. Keep t

he dialogue going. Things change in the commercial world very, very quickly. I
t's no good designing the perfect plant if it's decided that the plant is no lon
ger needed.
Doing a HAZOP is almost the last thing you do in the design, and is often only d
one once the money for the project has been approved. Don't worry about it unti
l the very latter stages of the project. However, safety should be paramount in
your design. In a perfect design, the HAZOP would be a rubber stamping exercis
e - your design should aim to make it so. Thinking about it, and designing arou
nd it at this very early stage makes it very much easier (and safer!) than tryin
g to shoehorn changes in later on.