Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies - SPIRE - IMPROOF


IMPROOFThe SPIRE Research and Innovation Action “Integrated Model Guided Process Optimization of Steam Cracking Furnaces” (IMPROOF) is a project that will develop and demonstrate the steam cracking furnace of the future. Through a combination of technological innovations such as application of novel materials and burners an increase of the time on stream with a factor 3 is anticipated with substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The strongly industrial oriented consortium is composed of 7 industrial partners, including 2 SME ‘s completed by 2 RTOs and 2 universities. This partnership has a clear and strong ambition to create a more sustainable chemical industry, covering the whole value chain of the furnaces business.
The project is coordinated by Prof. Kevin Van Geem (Laboratory for Chemical Technology, Ghent University, Belgium) and will run for 4 years starting in September 2016.

Steam cracking is the most energy-consuming process in the chemical industry and globally uses approximately 8% of the sector’s total primary energy. Improving the energy efficiency has an immediate pay-out because energy cost counts for a substantial part of the production costs in typical ethane- or naphtha-based olefin plants. In Europe primarily naphtha is cracked, which is substantially more expensive than cheap shale derived ethane. This makes  that the European petrochemical industry must be innovative to remain competitive in a globalized world economy.
One important way to reduce the energy input in steam cracking furnaces is to reduce coke formation on the reactor wall. The use of either advanced coil materials, combined with 3D reactor designs, improved process control, and more uniform heat transfer will increase run lengths, reducing simultaneously CO2 emissions and the lifetime of the furnaces. Biogas and bio-oil will be used as alternative fuels because they are considered renewable, and hence, decrease net CO2 production.

Application of high emissivity coatings on the external surface of the radiant coils will further substantially improve the energy consumption.

An additional challenge for the European industry is the upcoming stronger environmental regulations, in particular related to NOx. To reduce NOx emissions in the present proposal the use of advanced oxy-fuel combustion will be demonstrated.

IMPROOF will demonstrate the advantage of combining all these technological innovations with an anticipated increase of the time on stream with a factor 3. To select the correct technologies for sustainable implementation in complex plant-wide and industrial data-intensive process systems, all the technology will be implanted in real-plant conditions at TRL6 in DOW.


These are the objectives of IMPROOF:

  • Develop the steam cracking furnace of the future with reduced energy consumption, NOx and COx emissions, and CAPEX and OPEX costs. A novel combustion technology, reduction of coke formation and real time optimization are key elements in this respect.
  • Demonstrate the power of advanced process simulation for furnace design and optimization.
  • Demonstrate the technical, economic and environmental sustainability of the IMPROOF furnace at TRL6.

    Role of Ghent University

    Ghent University coordinates the project and leads the development and integration of furnace system innovations through pilot plant testing and advanced process simulation (kinetic modeling and CFD modeling).
    Furthermore, Ghent University will be involved in the scaling up study as well as in the sustainability assessment of the new technology.




    Prof. dr. ir. Kevin Van Geem - Coordinator

    Laboratory for Chemical Technology
    Phone number: +32 92645597