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Demonstration Plants

Demonstration Plants: Your Bridge to Commercialization

What is a demonstration plant? Simply put, a demonstration plant a scaled down version of the proposed commercial facility.

Example of a 10 TPD Demonstration Plant designed by Unitel

Why do you need a demonstration plant? To generate scale-up engineering data and compile credible and verifiable information about future capital and operating expenses (CAPEX and OPEX).

In most instances, a demonstration plant is an essential intermediate step between the pilot plant phase and the construction and operation of a full blown commercial facility. However, design flexibility in a demo plant is still a very critical factor because you don’t know what lies ahead.

“Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them.”
James A. Michener

Unitel and its associates have been involved in dozens of demonstration unit projects. Some examples are cited below.

  • Bitumen Upgrading Demonstration Plant. This 142 BPD unit was designed to demonstrate a new technology for upgrading bitumen extracted from oil sands using a novel in situ process for the production of hydrogen. The system was installed at the customer’s refinery. Start-up: four weeks.
  • Dimethyl Ether (DME) Demonstration Plant. A Korean customer developed a proprietary catalyst and process for the direct synthesis of DME from natural gas. Before going commercial, the customer needed to build and operate a demo plant (10 tons per day) to prove the efficacy of this technology and retained Unitel to generate the conceptual, basic and detailed engineering and design packages. The process includes an oxyblown auto-thermal reformer for making synthesis gas, fixed bed boiling water type DME reactors and cryogenic separation of reactants.
  • Vapor Phase Polypropylene Demo Plant. This polypropylene demo plant was designed and constructed for a major US client. It included a single fluidized bed reactor and a comprehensive feedstock purification train. This system was used as a platform to make subsequent units for other customers in Korea and Taiwan.
  • Recirculating Fluid Catalyst Biomass Pyrolysis Demo Plant. The client has developed a catalyst and technology to convert biomass into a bio-oil that can be used directly for heating purposes or can be upgraded to an oxygen-free product compatible with existing refinery feedstocks. This process uses a circulating bed similar to FCC units in oil refineries. The system consists of six modules that include a biomass pyrolysis reactor, a catalyst regenerator and a product recovery section.
  • Hydrocracking Demonstration Plant for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) to make polyols from sorbitol, 2000 psig, 650°F.
  • High Pressure Commercial Process Plant for making Melamine. Reactors and bayonet heaters lined with explosive bonded zirconium, 1500 psig, 950°F.
  • Continuous Supercritical CO2 Demo Plant for decaffeination of green coffee beans, 6000 psig, 60 ft. absorption/desorption columns.
  • Supercritical Water Demo Plant for destruction of toxic wastes.
  • Demonstration Plant using Catalytic Distillation to convert methanol into dimethyl ether (DME).
  • Computer controlled demonstration plant for oxydesulfurization of diesel/VGO feedstocks.  Novel technology includes coproduction of peracetic acid to generate free radicals for enabling the desulfurization reaction.

Unlike a pilot plant that is intended to verify only certain process operations, a demonstration plant portrays a fuller picture of what lies ahead. A demonstration plant is also a necessary tool for making product samples. Some other issues that a well-designed demonstration plant can resolve include:

  • Realistic projections about utilities and offsite costs
  • Impact of recycle streams
  • Byproducts and wastes
  • Potential environmental problems
  • Manpower costs
  • Maintenance expenses
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein



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Conceptual Engineering

The early stages of front end project and process development are critical for the future success of projects involving new technologies and processes.

Feasibility Study

The feasibility study phase generally consists of a technical and economic analysis to investigate the probable outcomes of a project.

Front End Engineering & Design (FEED)

The feasibility study phase generally consists of a technical and economic analysis to investigate the probable outcomes of a project.

Detailed Engineering & Design

This is the initial phase in the execution of the project. The objective of this phase is to develop all detailed engineering and design drawings and documents.


Procurement policies and procedures are of significant importance for implementing a project on schedule while retaining quality.


Unitel maintains a leased facility for the fabrication of high quality modules. Good fabrication procedures and safety during fabrication are of critical importance to us.

Commissioning & Start-Up

Unitel provides installation procedures and guidelines to assist the client in installing the modules. We always provide appropriate personnel for this activity.