The pharmaceutical company Octapharma is specialized in the development and production of preparations from human plasma. It operates a blood plasma fractionation facility in Stockholm for this purpose. Ethanol is used in the fractionation process and becomes loaded with substances such as water and proteins, chlorides, acetic acid and aldehydes. So far, to recover 96% ethanol in pharmaceutical quality, a single-stage distillation process has been used.
The company recently enlarged this facility to boost its capacity. VTU planned and delivered a three-stage distillation system as part of the process expansion project.
In a vacuum column, ethanol, water and low boilers are expelled overhead. Proteins, chlorides and acetic acid remain in the aqueous phase in the sump. Given the low distillation temperature, there is no protein coagulation and CIP cleaning is therefore considerably easier. Because chlorides are not entrained, there are also no corrosion problems in the downstream aggregates.
The next step is an atmospheric component distillation, where the ethanol is separated from the water. This is followed by another vacuum distillation to remove residual low boilers. Ethanol is thus obtained in 96% EU pharmacopoeia quality. At the same time, the low boiler fraction contains less ethanol than in the old process, meaning the total ethanol yield is now higher than before.
Steam consumption was furthermore reduced by one third by cleverly revising the energy distribution to the columns.
Ultimately, three main benefits are derived from this expansion:
1) Substantially lower specific energy consumption
2) Much lower CIP cleaning effort
3) Higher ethanol yield
The challenge of this project was the realization of the complex interconnection of system parts, without which the above benefits would not have been possible. Working on the basis of VTU’s many years of experience in distillation, an optimum solution was achieved – including automatic start-up at the push of a button.
VTU first developed the method in a basic engineering plan before delivering the turnkey facility expansion, which was installed and commissioned on time within a tight schedule. Octapharma immediately resumed operation with the new system to their fullest satisfaction. All guarantee parameters were met or surpassed.