Using LabVIEW and CompactRIO to Develop a Catalyst Testing Unit

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"Combining NI hardware and software was the perfect solution for our computer/network-based automation system. The investment cost was reasonable and LabVIEW is user friendly. "

- Chompoopol Sanyonk, The Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University

The Challenge:
Controlling reaction parameters throughout the testing period, which is normally 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, for two to three months, to prevent reaction condition distortion that can result in invalid results and/or catalyst deactivation.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW system design software and CompactRIO hardware to monitor, record, and control the reaction parameters, perform remote monitoring, and send alarm warnings.

Author(s):
Chompoopol Sanyonk - The Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University
Dr. Siriporn Jongpatiwut - The Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University
Dr. Thirasak Rirksomboon - The Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University
Ms. Rungnapa Janchookiat - Thaioil Public Company Limited
Ms. Ramon Supharattananon - Thaioil Public Company Limited

One of the key components in producing a low-sulfur diesel with Euro IV standards is a catalyst with high hydrodesulfurization (HDS) activity. There are various HDS catalysts produced by a number of manufacturers on the market today, which results in a variety of prices and activities. To choose an appropriate catalyst, potential catalysts must be screened and tested for activity and stability.

Reaction conditions such as temperature, pressure, and feed flow rates must be carefully controlled throughout the catalyst testing period. A distorted reaction condition may result in invalid results and/or catalyst deactivation. In the past, the testing systems were manually controlled. An operator was assigned to watch the experiment 24 hours a day in case of equipment failure. The system pressure varies with the room temperature and reaction parameters were not always recorded properly. There were no alarms or warning signals, so operator actions were sometimes performed too late to keep the catalyst active. If the catalyst was deactivated for a reason such as temperature being too high, hydrogen levels being too low, or a feed being too low, a new test had to be repeated. These conditions caused operators considerable stress.

We chose to solve this problem by developing a catalyst testing unit with an electronic controlling system. Such units are commercially available, but they’re very expensive (>$400,000 USD/unit). Besides the high investment, the flexibility of adding/removing equipment and calculations is limited.

Combining NI hardware and software was the perfect solution for our computer/network-based automation system. The investment cost was reasonable and LabVIEW is user friendly. A variety of functions are available to monitor, control, and analyze the process data. We can monitor and control the testing unit equipment including feed pumps, gas flow controllers, wet test gas meters, valves, and furnaces, as well as the level of liquid in the separators, by connecting the equipment I/O signals to NI modules that are linked to the computer. We can also program the system to perform analyses such as mass balances for a certain period of time by comparing feed and gas consumed with the eluted products.

Data logging is another useful function for data tracing. In addition to performing the tasks on-site, remote monitoring and alarm warnings via SMS to cell phones are also very useful applications for this system. In case of an unplanned situation, the equipment can be controlled based on the appropriate procedures reviewed in a hazard and operability study, which increases the safety of the units. Our program professionally operates the tests, making the results more reliable, reducing man-hours needed for monitoring, and reducing unplanned test shutdowns.

We successfully used NI hardware and software to construct two catalyst testing units with an electronic controlling system. The instruments and software are easy to use, flexible, and reliable. We saved about $1,000 USD per month in operator time and achieved more reliable results, which is the heart of this project. Additionally, unplanned shutdowns were minimized, thus saving time, man-hours, and materials. With emerging technology, the testing parameters can be monitored everywhere via Internet-enabled devices such as smartphones and tablets. We believe this will reduce stress on project members and operators when they are not directly monitoring the testing units.

Author Information:
Chompoopol Sanyonk
The Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University
254 Soi Chula 12, Phyathai Rd., Pathumwan
Bangkok
Thailand
Fax: 662-215-4459
lex-light@hotmail.com

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