Chinese success - a matter of concentration

As the Chinese saying goes, an artisan must first sharpen his tools if he is to do his work well. China’s chemical giant Nanning Chemical Industry finds the ancient wisdom still holds true today.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Zhou Han

Nanning Chemical Industry Company Limited is situated within half an hour’s ride from downtown Nanning, the capital city of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The city, with a population of almost 2 million, has become increasingly industrialized in recent years but is still a pleasant city to visit, particularly in wintertime thanks to its subtropical climate.

As an important production base for basic chemicals in South China, Nanning Chemical Industry has a total annual production of 270,000 tonnes of 28 chlorinealkali and fine chemical products ranging from caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, liquid chlorine, PVC to pesticides.

“Caustic soda or sodium hydroxide is our key product. Now our annual output of 160,000 tonnes ranks the No.1 in South China,” says Qin Weiguo, Vice President of Nanning Chemical Industry. “As construction, textile, paper-making and pharmaceutical industries are booming in China, the demand for raw material including caustic soda continues to expand.”

Qin shares the company’s vision, “We plan to invest 2 billion yuan (USD 250 million) before 2008 to build a new plant in Nanning suburbs so that our production capacity can be raised to 300,000 tonnes a year.”

Not only does Nanning Chemical Industry target the domestic market, it also exports to many overseas markets. Armed with various international export qualifications and quality certificates such as ISO 9001 : 2000, the company also intends to strengthening its global presence. “Plans are already in place to expand our exports to Australian, European, South East Asian and American markets in the years to come.”

“Chlorine and alkali are very basic chemical materials,” Qin explains. “So our focus is on increasing the production capacity in a rapid and cost-efficient manner to catch the opportunities and maintain our market leadership position.”

Strengthened position through new technology

The increasing market demand has prompted the emergence of many chemical plants across China in recent years. In spite of keen market competition, Nanning Chemical Industry manages to maintain its competitive edge by introducing modern and advanced technology which enables it to enhance quality and productivity as well as improve energy efficiency.

“China started to produce chlorine and alkali chemical products more than half a century ago. However, our domestic production capability started to improve greatly with the introduction of process automation about a decade ago,” recalled Qin, who also serves as the company’s chief engineer.

Caustic soda can be extracted and concentrated from the chlorine-alkali process. “For many years, Nanning Chemical has been known for producing caustic soda. Finding a solution which can optimize the concentration and extraction process and provide better efficiency is of high importance for a manufacturer like us.”

In order to improve both the quality and quantity of its production without adding too much to the cost, the company realized several years ago that it had to adopt Nanning Chemical Industry has an annual production of 270,000 tonnes.anced technology and equipment. “We needed state-of-the art equipment that was excellent in quality, easy to install and operate as well as cost competitive,” says Qin.

“We have introduced expertise and equipment from both home and abroad including Europe, US and Japan since 1998. At the same time, we have made great efforts to improve our own R&D capability. By that we hope to strengthen the market position of our traditional main products such as caustic soda, PVC and trichloroisocyanuric acid, and be able to develop more new quality chlorine-alkali products in the next few years.”

In the concentration process alone, with the support of two systems comprising AlfaVap evaporators and an AlfaCond condenser supplied by Alfa Laval, Nanning Chemical Industry has managed to not only double its processing capacity of caustic soda, but has also improved energy efficiency tremendously. “The benefits of installing the two new systems are beyond our expectation,” comments Qin.

Impressed by the service

However, Alfa Laval’s supplies to Nanning Chemical were not without their initial problems. The first purchase deal, signed in 2003, was for a concentration system with a daily processing capacity of 90 tonnes built on the AlfaVap evaporator and AlfaCond condenser technology.

It was the first time Nanning Chemical Industry adopted solutions other than traditional, more space-demanding shell-and-tube systems for its condensation process. Technical problems occurred shortly after the new equipment had been put into use.

“We were aware that Alfa Laval did not necessarily need to take the full responsibility. But once they were notified about the problem, they immediately sent out technicians to help us fix the glitches. They did not leave until they were sure the operation would be smooth,” Qin says.

The after-sales service provided by Alfa Laval impressed Nanning Chemical and their confidence was restored. “Despite all, they proved themselves to be a very reliable supplier and the equipment indeed is very efficient in increasing our production capacity and productivity,” Qin says. “Afterwards we decided to purchase another, bigger system from Alfa Laval. The new 180-tonne-per-day system has been in successful operation since August 2005.”

The whole process can be quite easily handled by just two operators. The control room is neat and quiet. “It is pretty convenient to operate and maintain the equipment. A few clicks on the mouse can get a lot of things done,” says Yi Hongping, who is checking data in front of a computer screen in the control room. “It is much easier than operating on traditional equipment with lots of pipes.”

Environmental focus from inside and out

“The strategy of the company is to develop rapidly and healthily. We put our focus on both product quality and capital management in order to become the biggest and most competitive chlorine-alkali and fine chemicals company in South China,” says Qin. “We are the first company in China to issue convertible bonds on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. We became officially listed in July 2000.

“The stock-exchange listing gave our company strong momentum to develop faster. Apart from introducing advanced technology, we also invest heavily in people, environment protection, pollution treatment and energy supply innovations,” adds Qin.

The Nanning Chemical plant has an enjoyable, green environment where the air smells fresh. No wonder the company, that holds a number of quality and environment protection certificates issued by related European and American agencies, enjoys a harmonious relationship with the nearby residential community.

The company used to consume 30,000 cubic metres of water an hour for the production of chlorine and alkali chemical products. While the production capacity now is more than doubled, the amount of water consumed has been reduced to 800 cubic metres an hour!

“This is thanks to the advanced equipment we have installed including the solution from Alfa Laval,” Qin says. “A key index of the energy efficiency of an evaporation system is its consumption of steam. The new systems save about 700 kilograms of steam for the production of every tonne of sodium hydroxide. Besides, the condensate from the vapour condensed in the AlfaCond can be recycled.”

The company’s commitment to sustainable development is well reflected in its motto: “Every day there is a new sun. Every day we make progress. Every day we have development. Every day we pursue innovation.”

This motto seems to permeate all of the company’s employees. “This is my first job after my graduation four years ago. I like this city, and I like working for Nanning Chemical Industry,’’ says technician Wei Rongzhang proudly who is checking the concentration process. “I have the possibility to work with advanced technology here. Besides, the company has a humanitarian management style, which gives me a sense of belonging.”

Alfa Laval / Nanning Chemical cooperation

After sodium hydroxide has been extracted from the chlorine-alkali process, it needs to be further concentrated by using evaporators and a condenser to reach the expected concentration of 50%.

Based on the technical requirements provided by Nanning Chemical Industry, Alfa Laval worked out a solution with the AlfaVap evaporators and the AlfaCond condenser. With this solution, the daily processing capacity reaches 180 tonnes.

“We made the buying decision after we had made careful market studies,” says Qin Weiguo, Vice President of Nanning Chemical. “Alfa Laval’s systems have important technical benefits, and they are both energy-efficient and cost-competitive.”

“The AlfaVap and AlfaCond units are more compact and allow minimum use of pipes and valves which leaves enough space for operators to move around to check and operate,” says Kejian Xu, Sales Manager from Alfa Laval (Shanghai) Technologies Co., Ltd.

The units are fitted with a plate package that has plates welded together in pairs referred to as cassettes. The heating steam is condensed in the welded channels while the evaporated product passes through the gasketed channels. The special corrugated plate pattern creates a high degree of turbulence, thus providing highly-efficient heat transfer.

Compared to traditional shell-and-tube systems, the AlfaVap and the AlfaCond have a more compact area for heat transfer and a higher energy efficiency resulting in reduced energy consumption. Besides, this process produces less incrustation, making it easier to clean.

“Our new equipment has liberated us from heavy manual labour,” says Wei Rongzhang, Technician at Nanning Chemical. “It was beyond our imagination several years ago that the equipment we use today could be so highly efficient and so easy to operate at the same time.”