Simulation and optimization of the continuous tower process for styrene polymerization



The continuous tower process, a popular industrial process for the manufacture of polystyrene, was simulated and optimized. A kinetic model for the thermal polymerization of styrene, which takes into account the Trommsdorff effect and the volume change accompanying the reaction, was developed. This was used to formulate model equations for the continuous flow stirred tank reactor (CSTR) and plug flow reactor (several sections) in the tower process. The model can predict monomer conversion, number- and weight-average molecular weights, polydispersity index (PDI), and temperature at various locations in the unit, under specified operating conditions. Multiobjective optimization of this process was also carried out, for which an adaptation of a genetic algorithm (GA) was used. The two objectives were maximization of the final monomer conversion and minimization of the PDI of the product. The conversion in the CSTR was constrained to lie within a desired range, and polymer having a specified value of the number-average molecular weight was to be produced. The optimal solution was a unique point (no Pareto sets were obtained). The optimal solutions indicated that the tower process is operated under near-optimal conditions. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci 94: 775–788, 2004