Rescaling capital in the energy and materials processing industries

In the energy and materials processing industries we have witnessed a trend of ever increasing unit size. Several factors have driven this trend but the two most prominent are; economies of unit scale and labor productivity. Building bigger tends to imply lower capital costs per unit capacity. Also, increasing unit size typically does not require a proportional increase in operating labor meaning that building bigger increases productivity. However, cost reductions ensuing from the mass production process and advances in automation and communication technology counteracts these to drivers respectively. Producing capacity on a smaller unit-scale opens up several benefits not attainable in the current paradigm of custom-made and large installations, such as the flexibility to operate in either a distributed or centralized fashion and the ability to incrementally increase or replace existing capacity. Also, several processes that currently are employed on a large unit scale actually favor a smaller unit size from a physical perspective. This thesis puts forth an argument for the inclusion of small-scale, modular and mass-produced capital equipment in the research, design, and planning phases in the energy and materials processing industries.

Eric Dahlgren, PhD 2013, Earth and Environmental Engineering
Klaus Lackner, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics, (PI)