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Keywords:

  • optimization;
  • polymer processing;
  • process control;
  • mathematical modeling

The reactor modeling and recipe optimization of conventional semibatch polyether polyol processes, in particular for the polymerization of propylene oxide to make polypropylene glycol, is addressed. A rigorous mathematical reactor model is first developed to describe the dynamic behavior of the polymerization process based on first-principles including the mass and population balances, reaction kinetics, and vapor-liquid equilibria. Next, the obtained differential algebraic model is reformulated by applying a nullspace projection method that results in an equivalent dynamic system with better computational performance. The reactor model is validated against plant data by adjusting model parameters. A dynamic optimization problem is then formulated to optimize the process recipe, where the batch processing time is minimized, given a target product molecular weight as well as other requirements on product quality and process safety. The dynamic optimization problem is translated into a nonlinear program using the simultaneous collocation strategy and further solved with the interior point method to obtain the optimal control profiles. The case study result shows a good match between the model prediction and real plant data, and the optimization approach is able to significantly reduce the batch time by 47%, which indicates great potential for industrial applications. © 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 59: 2515–2529, 2013