You may have never heard of chloromethanes, but this family of versatile chemicals is essential in a wide variety of applications, ranging from making pharmaceuticals to water treatment. You can even thank them for your cup of decaf coffee – they play a key role in the decaffeination process. Nouryon is already the largest producer of chloromethanes in Europe, and we have been working hard to keep up with the pace of demand growth. This month, our latest expansion project gets under way in earnest with first construction activities at our site in Frankfurt, Germany.
A versatile molecule
Chloromethanes are made via the combination of chlorine with methane (natural gas) or methanol. There are four types of chloromethanes, depending on the number of chlorine atoms in the molecule, each with its own unique properties and applications.
Methyl chloride for example, the simplest chloromethane with just one chlorine atom, is used to produce silicones, pharmaceuticals, construction materials and products for agriculture and water treatment. "Every water treatment plant in the world needs polymers that are produced with methyl chloride," explains Thorsten Schulz, Marketing Manager Chloromethanes. "Population growth and the need for clean water in developing countries inevitably requires increased production on our side."
The other three types of chloromethanes are vital for growing applications such as antibiotics, agriculture, refrigerants and, indeed, decaffeinating coffee. And you may also recognize chloroform from its use as an anesthetic.
Building a ship while sailing it
While global demand is growing, production is concentrated mostly in Europe, where Nouryon increased production in 2017-2018 by upgrading the plant in Frankfurt. In the coming 1-2 years, we will add new equipment and upgrades to increase capacity for methyl chloride by 30%. The factory will keep running while this happens to ensure a steady supply, including to pharmaceutical customers who receive product via a special pipeline connection.
Project Leader Mayke Müller-Eversbusch is gearing up for the challenge ahead: "It is always more complex to do this work while the factory is still running and work within existing installations. In a way, you are building a ship while sailing it. Luckily, we have a great team on the ground with years of expertise in chloromethanes and we are directly involved in the engineering process to ensure a smooth implementation.”
Towards the factory of the future
The project will also include many upgrades to the production process, including further automation. "After the upgrade, manual intervention of pumps and valves is reduced to a minimum and pretty much everything is steered from the central control room. This makes it safer and also allows for further fine-tuning of production," Mayke explains.
Thanks to an ingenious technology, we can add or remove chlorine at multiple stages in the production process, giving us the unique ability to vary production levels of different types of chloromethanes according to demand.
“If a customer producing antibiotics has a maintenance stop, the plant can temporarily lower production of one type of product in favor of other molecules, for example to produce more water treatment solutions,” Mayke says.
Technologies like this help make production more efficient and reliable and by 2020, the upgraded plant will help meet growing demand of this essential chemical for manufacturers around the world.
More information about our chloromethanes
Opportunities at Nouryon in Germany