Questions and answers concerning the F³ Factory Project

Q1: What is the F³ Factory project?

The F³ Factory is a four year, €30m (US$42m) public/private initiative focused on the development and implementation of a standardised, modular, continuous demonstrator plant that will enable European chemical producers to experiment with innovative manufacturing techniques for low to medium scale production, in order to demonstrate cleaner and more efficient chemical manufacturing technologies.F³ Factory stands for Flexible, Fast and Future Factory.

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Q2: What is the F³ Factory project seeking to achieve?

The F³ Factory project has the following aims:

  • to deliver radical new ‘plug and play’ modular chemical production technology, capable of widespread implementation throughout the European chemical industry
  • to deliver ‘whole process design’ methodology through the application of novel process intensification concepts and innovative decision tools such that raw materials and energy (which represent between 70 to 80 percent of manufacturing costs) are employed more economically
  • to demonstrate the capabilities of the F³ Factory concept with a range of existing chemical products
  • to deliver new manufacturing concepts that would significantly decrease process development time through the standardisation, modularisation and application of novel process intensification technologies.  

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Q3: Who is involved in the project?

The F³ Factory consortium consists of 25 partners from 9 European Member States that are crossing competitive boundaries to collaborate both on new technologies for process intensification and innovative new production concepts. The consortium comprises highly complementary skills/expertise and a critical mass of resources from a broad spectrum of scientific and technological disciplines required to address the overall objectives of the F³ Factory project.

Consortium members are: Bayer Technology Services (Project Co-ordinator), Arkema, AstraZeneca, BASF, Britest, Buss-SMS-Canzler, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS-LRGP), Coatex, Denmark Technical University, Ehrfeld Mikrotechnik BTS, Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL-ENSIC), Evonik, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Catalysis & Surface Chemistry PAS, Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Process Design Center, Rhodia, RWTH Aachen, TU Dortmund University, Technical University Eindhoven, University of Newcastle, University of Paderborn, Procter & Gamble, Ruhr-Universität Bochum. 

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Q4: How is the F³ Factory project funded?

The F³ Factory project receives €18.0 million of funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Community Research Programme. The remainder of the €30 million project costs will be contributed in kind or cash from the consortium partners.  

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Q5: What is the timeframe for the project?

The F³ Factory project was launched in June 2009 and will run for 48 months to May 2013.  

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Q6: How will the F³ Factory differ from current chemical manufacturing processes?

Manufacturing in the low to medium tonnage chemical industries is currently carried out in batch process plants consisting of multi-purpose stirred tanks. These plants are versatile but inefficient in that the equipment is not designed with a specific process in mind and does not, therefore, optimise the use of materials and energy.

In the bulk chemicals sector manufacturing is typically carried out in continuous process plants where there is a constant feed of raw materials for conversion to product. These plants are typically designed for a single feedstock and product and are, therefore, very efficient when operated under their design conditions. However, they do not have the flexibility to cope with significant variations in raw materials and/or changes in demand.

The F³ Factory will combine the flexibility of batch manufacturing with the efficiency of large scale continuous manufacturing. It will deliver “plug and play” modular continuous chemical production technology, capable of widespread implementation throughout the European chemical industry to which intensified process equipment can be connected to deliver cleaner, more efficient chemical manufacturing.

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Q7: Why is the project seen as being important to the future of the EU chemical industry?

The F³ Factory consortium partners believe that the EU chemical industry’s competitive position would be significantly enhanced if it could operate modular continuous plant which combines world scale continuous plant efficiency and consistency with the versatility of batch production methods. This would deliver radically new production techniques for the chemical industry, help generate new business and drive an estimated savings of €3.75 billion. 

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Q8: What are the key deliverables for the project?

The consortium of leading EU academics, research institutions and seven industrial companies will seek to:

  • prove the technical feasibility of the F³ Factory model of manufacturing by building and operating a 0.1 to 30kg/hr demonstration facility
  • demonstrate that operation of the F³ Factory plant will be more economical, eco-efficient and more sustainable than the current large scale continuous or small-medium scale batch processing
  • drive a step change in the technology available to EU chemical producers and engineering companies by designing intensified equipment for reaction and down stream processing, dissemination of standards for plug and play modular plant and providing open access to the backbone demonstrator facility. 

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Q9: What existing product areas will the F³ Factory focus on?

Key applications targeted to demonstrate the F³ Factory concept include solvent- free polymers, specialty surfactants, pharmaceutical intermediates and materials from renewable resources, though it is intended that the technology will be suitable for a broad range of applications. The seven industrial partners in the consortium – Arkema, AstraZeneca, BASF, Bayer Technology Services, Evonik, Procter & Gamble and Rhodia will each demonstrate the effectiveness of the F³ Factory concept by operating demonstration processes for their respective product areas on an open access F³ Factory Backbone Facility at CHEMPARK, Leverkusen. 

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Q10: When will the F³ Factory plant be constructed and what will it entail?

The F³ Factory project requires an 'open backbone facility' for demonstration of new production concepts. This backbone facility will be provided by INVITE (INnovation, VIsion, TEchnologies) – a 50/50 joint venture between TU Dortmund University and Bayer Technology Services. 

INVITE will take the F³ Factory vision beyond this EU project by providing an open research centre for developing and demonstrating future manufacturing technologies. The combination of joint research by industry and academia and a location and infrastructure in Leverkusen, Germany, with access to an industrial environment, is intended to shorten the innovation periods significantly.

INVITE will be open to the public and will be supported by events and lectures. TU Dortmund will carry out new courses in INVITE as part of their education programme for engineers. INVITE will follow an open innovation concept and intends to carry out publicly funded projects, contract research as well as its own research.

The INVITE company was formed in January 2010, the infrastructure and buildings will be erected in 2010/11 and full operation is planned for the middle of 2011. 

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Q11: What are the key challenges in process intensification?

A key challenge for the chemical industry is the application of PI principles across the whole production process, and throughout the process lifecycle. The F³ Factory project will focus on the integration of PI approaches, combining all process steps necessary for an innovative development and production platform suitable for industrial use. If a real paradigm shift is to be achieved in the chemicals industry, however, it is important that process technologists involved in early process development become more aware of continuous processing capabilities at the lab scale, so as not to constrain process selection by the use of batch-wise lab equipment. 

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Q12: How will the wider chemical industry benefit from the outputs of this project?

A specific work programme within the F³ Factory project will focus on engagement with the European chemical industry, academia and other stakeholders to enable wider uptake of the F³ Factory concepts. Industrial and academic user groups will contribute to the development of an F³ Factory handbook of standards, guidelines and protocols for the development of F³ Factory plant and processes, and will help develop relevant training materials for both industrial and academic audiences. In addition, the eco-efficiency benefits of F³ Factory processes and plants will be evaluated and disseminated. 

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Q13: How is the F³ Factory Project structured?

As with all major consortium based projects of this nature, there are several components (work packages) that bring together the relevant skills/expertise of the consortium partners to focus on the specific challenges of the project. For the F³ Factory, there are nine separate work packages as follows: 

  • WP1 - Project Management; encompasses the consortium’s project management activities.
  • WP2 - Production Scenarios; will determine the drivers for F³ Factory innovations and the technical and economic barriers of existing production technologies.
  • WP3 - Integrated development and design methodologies; will develop tools and methodologies for the design of innovative flexible intensified production processes for operation in F³ Factory plants.
  • WP4 - Plant operation; will develop engineering tools, methods and standardised solutions to enable the F³ Factory plant and processes to operate in an optimal manner.
  • WP5 - Intensified chemical reactors; will develop and evaluate new intensified reactor concepts for integration into the F³ Factory Backbone Facility that deliver specific features required by the industrial demonstration processes.
  • WP6 - Intensified downstream processes; will develop technical solutions for replacing traditional separation apparatus with F³ Factory Process Equipment Assemblies incorporating novel separation technologies.
  • WP7 - Validation of F³ Factory technology; will demonstrate that the F3 Factory concepts for process design and modular equipment selection are applicable to the range of processes operated by the industrial consortium partners.
  • WP8 - Open Access Backbone Facility; will demonstrate the effectiveness of the F³ Factory concept by operating demonstration processes on an open access F³ Factory Backbone Facility at CHEMPARK, Leverkusen.
  • WP9 - Dissemination, training, eco-efficiency; will engage with European industry, academia and other stakeholders to enable a wider uptake of the F³ Factory concepts.

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