Antoon Ten Kate. Photo by Christian Ove Cralsson

Experimental data adds power to modelling

Nouryon is a leading producer of essential chemistry in the manufacture of everyday products such as paper, plastics, building materials, and personal care items. All products are sold business-to-business, albeit that salt is also manufactured for direct household consumption. The company is a long-standing member of the KT-Consortium.

“We take a strong interest in the software developed in the consortium for modelling of physical properties, since this is helpful in designing both our products and our processes,” says Dr. Antoon Ten Kate, Lead Scientist at Nouryon.

“The unit I’m part of assists the various business units in Nouryon. We provide expertise and capability that each separate business unit cannot maintain, typically in request by the business unit. We stimulate research where we can, including by suggesting ideas.”

Usually, a business unit will approach Ten Kate and his colleagues with a problem.

“This could either be for optimizing a well-known process, or for instance a new process intended to improve sustainability. As an example, some of our processes currently give various salts as by-products. This doesn’t fit in with our circular economy focus. We want to either eliminate such by-products or ensure that they become valuable instead of being waste. Regardless of the specific challenge, we always take a structured approach and begin by looking at the physical and chemical properties involved in the particular case. To that end, the ICAS software developed in the consortium is helpful. Not least functionalities such as ProPred and ProCAMD.”

ProPred is a tool for predicting the properties of a substance, while ProCAMD does the exact opposite: given a set of observed or desired properties, which substance(s) may give these properties.

While useful, the tools can be improved further according to Ten Kate, his view carrying extra weight since he does not only represent his own company, but also chairs the KT-Consortium Advisory Board:

“The software is excellent. Still, you always have limitations when you choose to do everything in silico. Many events happen at the same time during manufacturing, making the systems highly complicated. Also, ICAS builds upon a data bank. If your system is not in the bank, you may have a problem. In any case, you will never be able to rely entirely on modelling. By including even just simple experiments to verify the calculations, the tools can become much more powerful.”

Until October 2018, Nouryon was the specialty chemicals division of AkzoNobel. Following the carve-out a branding campaign introduced the company’s new name carrying the slogan “Hello again!” Smilingly, Ten Kate argues that the same slogan could be applied to the KT-Consortium annual meeting, since the event is co-organized with another entity at DTU, the Center for Energy Resources Engineering (CERE).

“Originally, the activities of CERE and KT-Consortium were in the same group, so seeing them organize their main annual events together is to me “Hello again!” We are members of both industry consortia, but frankly I am not sure I see the logic in having two different consortia, especially since they seem to be quite aligned. I should underline that this is my personal view, and maybe I cannot represent all companies in the consortia here. I do understand that various political issues lie behind the division, but anyhow my advice would be to seek some kind of clarifying justification. If you maintain a division, it should be based on a clear reasoning. Otherwise, you risk that both entities fall apart, which would really be a pity.”