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Pure Appl. Chem., 2009, Vol. 81, No. 10, pp. 1727-1743

Published online 2009-09-26

The role of experimental data in chemical process technology

Paul M. Mathias

Fluor Corporation, 47 Discovery, Irvine, CA 92618, USA

Abstract: Experimental data have served two critical roles in chemical process technology: (1) by providing the definitive quantitative basis to evaluate competing processes, to optimize designs, and ultimately to guarantee plant performance; and (2) by guiding the form and structure of applied-thermodynamics correlations. This paper first presents two representative applications to highlight the role of thermodynamic and transport properties in chemical process technology: ammonia recovery from syngas using water as solvent, and design of a caustic-guard system to eliminate small residual concentrations of SO2 from a gas stream. These applications illustrate the first role of experimental data. The paper next studies the second role by examining the historical contribution of experimental data—over two centuries—in guiding the development of key concepts and correlations, such as Henry’s law (1802), group-contribution methods (Kopp, 1842), Raoult’s law (1878), second-virial-coefficient correlation (Berthelot, 1907), surface-tension correlation (Macleod, 1923), the use of one property to estimate another (Othmer, 1940), cubic equations of state (Redlich and Kwong, 1949), electrolyte systems (van Krevelen, 1949), acentric factor (Pitzer, 1955), and highly accurate equations of state (Span and Wagner, 2003). The analysis reveals that careful, accurate, and wide-ranging experimental data have identified the patterns of the underlying phenomena.