Electrification of chemical processes is part of the energy transition that aims at reducing the carbon footprint of various industries in Canada. There is a need for the chemical industry, traditionally a heavy consumer of fossil energy, to adapt its processes and give a more dominant place to the use of electricity. Microwave reactions, using electricity to promote chemical reactions, have shown tremendous potential at the laboratory scale to improve product yield, quality and the energy efficiency of chemical reactors. Over the last 10 years, breakthrough advances have been made towards the deployment of microwave technology at industrial level by the Canadian technology company Pyrowave. They have developed a catalytic microwave depolymerization reactor which can effectively pyrolyze polystyrene to produce styrene monomers which can be used to synthetize virgin-grade polystyrene. Considering that only 30% of Canadian communities have access to polystyrene recycling facilities and that the Pyrowave process can work efficiently with contaminated polystyrene, this cost-effective and high-yield technology would tremendously reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in Canada.
Pyrowave currently faces challenges in the optimization of their reactor. A number of these issues are related to the impact of the microwaves, which generate local high-temperature sites which are beneficial to the pyrolysis, but which must be controlled to ensure adequate yield and structural integrity of the reactor. This requires in-depth understanding of the multiphase flows within the reactor when it is subject to microwave radiation. The proposed project will be carried out by a team of two PhD students and combines multiphase computational fluid dynamics (PhD A) and state of the art experimental work using radioactive particle tracking (PhD B) to understand, quantify and predict the influence of microwave radiation on the solid-fluid flow patterns and heat transfer within the reactor.
PhD B will design, with the help of Pyrowave, an experimental reactor. Using Radioactive Particle Tracking and this reactor, PhD B will carry out experiments with and without a microwave field. This will be the first time that hydrodynamic measurements are obtained in a reactor with a microwave field. The impact of the microwaves and bubble generation on the motion of the particles and on the flow will be measured and quantified using the flow fields obtained with RPT. Further quantitative information about the reactor dynamics and the reaction kinetics will be obtained by leveraging modern data analytics to extract the most information of the particle trajectories obtained by RPT and of the reaction products.
We believe that the outcomes of this project will enable the design of new catalytic microwave depolymerization reactors which will be a key contributor to the circular economy of tomorrow
The funding will follow the norms of the Departement of Chemical Engineering of Polytechnique Montreal