What wonders hath Honeywell wrought
The refrigerants in your fridge. The polyester & nylon in your clothes. The detergents you clean them with. The road you drive on. The medicines you take. The candles at your candlelight dinner. The lipstick women love to wear. What do they all have in common?
In one way or the other, they're all made from the byproducts of petroleum refining. (I didn't believe it either. Scroll to the end of the article for a crash course in Chemistry).
Turns out Honeywell's UOP is a world leader in designing products you and I can use, from the byproducts of petroleum refining. They've set up a $34 million, 2 acre campus in Gurgaon, near New Delhi. It's their fourth outpost in India, the only one devoted to developing new Performance Materials and Technologies (PMT). (Editor's note: Honeywell International is among America's 100 biggest corporations with separate wings that manufacture/ maintain among other things -, nuclear bombs, aircraft engines, automobile components and home security products.)
Simon Hobbs, Director at Honeywell India Technology Centre, mentioned technologies Honeywell PMT centres have developed in the past. For example - making bio-fuel from plants and using it to fly jet planes. Surprised!!? Well, it's called Honeywell Green Jet fuelTM. This and other such bio-fuel technologies from Honeywell's UOP have been around for almost twenty years.
Most companies in the US and Brazil use plants like corn or sugarcane to make bio-diesel. But that triggers both high prices for foodstuff and food shortages, because farmers sell their entire produce to bio-diesel companies, instead of selling it in the local markets. But Honeywell's UOP has technologies for second-generation bio fuels, with feedstock that does not compete with edible sources.
Honeywell's UOP offers a technology to develop bio-fuel from Camelina, a relative of the Mustard plant, or from other non-edible oils such as those derived from jatropha trees or algae. They mixed Honeywell Green Jet Fuel made from various such non-edible oils Camelina oil with regular Jet A-1 aviation fuel in a fifty-fifty ratio and flew more than twenty demonstration flights with it, globally. Turns out it was better than fuel made from corn or sugarcane, which can only be blended in a 20:80 ratio.
Another technology they have transforms tonnes of forest and agricultural waste into RTP green fuel, a thick Pyrolysis oil, which can then be used as a heating oil to replace furnace oil, or be refined further into bio-fuel. It's a technique that uses extremely hot sand to instantly liquefy any waste it comes in contact with. Seven such plants are already operational globally; the first plant to further convert RTP green fuel into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel is being built in Hawaii, USA.
(Interestingly, Honeywell data centres are being used in the Timarpur-Okhla and Ghazipur waste treatment plants being built in New Delhi. Almost 3000 tonnes of municipal waste are to be incinerated and converted into 28 MW of electricity annually at these plants. However, this technology is completely different from what will be used in Hawaii).
So evidently - Honeywell centres do a lot of innovative research. At their Gurgaon campus, some forty-five scientists are already hard at work. The company hopes to absorb a hundred and thirty more over the next five years.
Curiously, over the next few years, Honeywell believes refrigerators could give it a lot of business in India. Refrigerator manufacturers will be forced by the Montreal Protocol to abandon the Hydro Chloro Fluoro Carbon gasses (HCFCs) most of our fridges use - they're major causes of the ozone hole in our atmosphere.
Honeywell has developed a range of Hydro Fluoro Carbons (HFCs) and HFOs for refrigeration and air conditioning- that while not completely inert, are much safer to the environment than the older generation of gasses. And they're expecting big demand for those very soon.
Meanwhile, the Gurgaon centre is also getting work from petroleum refineries in and around Panipat. Dr. Simon Hobbs showed me a huge $ 10 million pilot plant on campus dedicated to analyzing the constituents of different grades of fuel these refineries produce. Is the sulphur content too high? Can the lead content be reduced?
Researchers here constantly experiment with processes that could help Indian refineries produce cleaner fuel at cheaper costs. Hobbs says it's a mini-refinery of sorts. The idea is to hit upon the right technique. Once that's found - the parent refinery can then scale up the technology thousand-fold and use it to deliver millions of gallons of fuel. (Hobbs says every Refinery in India, including the Reliance one at Jamnagar, uses one or the other technology licensed from Honeywell's UOP.)
Before I left, Dr.Hobbs marched me into the plant's data centre - a huge bank of computers quietly logging data from the maze of oil pipes just outside. This is the heart of the plant - a few keystrokes and entire sections or the whole plant itself could be shut down in seconds. Senior programmers in America remotely monitor and control experiments online 24/7.
Hobbs casually mentioned the centre stores some 32 terrabytes (32,768 GB) of data. That's five times more than the world's largest library - the US Library of Congress.
(To make Nylon, you need Caprolactam, a chemical made from Phenol, which in turn, is made from Benzene - a byproduct of petroleum. Polyethylene, another byproduct, is used to make sludgy waxes which when added to bitumen, makes roads more heat fatigue resistant and longer lasting.
More about Jaimon JosephI've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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