May 27, 2024

The art of scaling up

5 important factors to go from pilot to working demo plant

TransitionHERO specializes in the art of scaling up circular startups. With our technical knowledge, our expertise in scaling up and our own optioneering tool, we help companies take a step in their development. Our scale-up method consists of 5 important factors.

1. Design with focus on the business case

Your company or technology can only be successful if the financial picture is correct. For this reason, we always focus on the business case when designing a scale up plant for a circular startup. We start with the business case and return to it repeatedly during the different design steps. Initially, it is important to look at where the major costs are within the production process and how to keep them low. This way, the end product can be produced with as much profit as possible. TransitionHERO uses a self-developed optioneering tool which compares and visualizes the different options of the investment and operational costs.

In practice

Suppose you produce hydrogen using electrolysers. Hydrogen is your end product and therefore the most important source of turnover. But oxygen and heat are also released during the electrolysis process. Usually these would be wasted. However, you can also valorize them and use them in a parallel process. This makes your business case stronger and makes the project feasible.

2. Determine the scaling factor

Every chemical process has its own optimal scaling factor. To determine this, we look at 3 aspects: How great is the demand from customers? How many raw materials are available within an acceptable transport distance? And what is technically possible, within an acceptable scope of risk when scaling up? For the technical options, we use our basic model with scale-up factors where we mainly look at the type of process, see figure below. We then zoom in on the critical process steps and determine what the important parameters are for dimensioning the process. Then various dimensionless key figures are calculated. Depending on the type of process, this is often driven by heat transfer or mass transport, such as mixing or turbulence. Sometimes a simulation can help to better understand what is happening in the process and what the sensitivities are of different process conditions. To determine this, we work with various types of simulation software, or we simply build our own model.

Scale up factor is described by a graphIn practice

One of our circular startups asked if we could scale up their working lab-scale installation to a commercial level. That is a big step to take all at once, but the customer wanted to quickly make a name for himself and be profitable. Although this is possible, it comes with risks. We looked at what the greatest risks were and advised an intermediate step. Investing in a pilot plant was not necessary in this case. We outsourced the work of this intermediate step to a toll company. They were able to validate the most important assumptions, simplify the process and produce the first product for customers.

3. Specify raw materials and product composition

Within the circular economy, non-fossil raw materials are used, which can be biobased or come from a waste stream. In both cases, the chemical composition is never exactly the same, as there are impurities in the raw materials. Thus, it should be taken into account, as it can end up in your final product. So, it should be determined: what should be the precise composition of your final product? What number of impurities (and what type) do your customers consider acceptable? And what is the price you can ask for it? We can help you consider the different options and technologies to make the right choice.

In practice

Suppose your circular startup makes nitric acid from NOx, which is recovered from a flue gas stream from a waste incinerator. A possible application of this nitric acid is in the production of fertilizer. In this case, it is important to know whether contaminants from waste incineration end up in the nitric acid. And if so, what can be done to reduce this to an acceptable level.

4. Not traditional linear design, but in short sprints

In most cases, the circular processes we help scale up are new. Much is still uncertain. Traditional design methods are therefore not easily applicable, because there are too many assumptions which may turn out to be incorrect, meaning you must start all over again. For this reason, we work in short design sprints. With our in-house optioneering model we split the process into blocks or design sprints. Each design sprint is a specific action or step in the process, typically based on the so-called ‘functional units’ in the process. The results of these sprints are the input for the next design phase. This way, we keep considering our options, always focusing on the business case. An average optioneering process consists of 3-10 different blocks or sprints.

In practice

An example of a sprint is looking at how to recover and recycle certain raw materials and auxiliary materials within a process in the best way, such as enzymes or solvents in a reaction process. We investigate the best method to do this and the costs of the necessary equipment. This allows us to arrive at the most efficient and cost-effective solution and make recommendations for testing, so we can demonstrate that recycling is possible.

5. Get the financing

When you start your business, you have an idea in mind. That idea involves raw materials, product specifications, a production process and financing. TransitionHERO ensures the availability of all information that potential investors and subsidy providers need. On top of this, we help to lower the risk of investment as much as possible. We know which information investors need to make a decision and we help explain all technical aspects so our customers can obtain financing. Since we are also sometimes asked to carry out a technical due diligence, we also understand what investors need.

In practice

One of our customers wanted to scale up the production process of basic chemicals from waste plastic. We helped draw up a test plan in which all experiments were documented in a structured manner. The tests were prioritized to avoid delays in engineering. The scale-up process was validated with data from the experiments that proved the risk to scale up was acceptable. A report like this is standard with every business case we build for our start-ups. We do not only provide the relevant figures, but also indicate how reliable they are and how they were calculated.

We want our start-ups to be successful. We don’t just make the business case but also the implementation plan. And with our technical and scaling knowledge, we guide circular startups during the entire scale up process, from pilot to demo plant.

Curious about our scaling options? Contact us here.