Elimination of Film Fouling During Polymer Synthesis Process

53 Submissions
$25,000 USD
Challenge under evaluation

Challenge overview


The purpose of this Challenge is to find new approaches to eliminating the fouling formation on the reactor wall during the synthesis of butyl rubber.

Butyl rubber synthesis is a highly exothermic process and requires removal of the polymerization heat. Fouling of the heat transfer surface area by rubber particles deteriorates the reactor’s cooling capability.

Prior attempts at eliminating these rubber films have met with limited success. The Seeker, therefore, is interested in approaches to eliminate - or dramatically reduce - the rubber film deposition, a process known as “film fouling.”

This is a Prize Challenge which requires a written proposal to be submitted. There will be a guaranteed award pool of $25,000, with at least one award of $10,000 or larger and no award being smaller than $5,000. Award distribution (or allocation) will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation of the proposals. By submitting a proposal, the Solver grants the Seeker a right to use any information included in their proposal.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on February 12, 2024. 

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The Problem Background

Butyl rubber synthesis is a highly exothermic process of copolymerization of isobutylene (98%) with isoprene (2%), in the presence of a catalyst, at a temperature of around -100°CThe reaction is conducted in tubular reactors under the condition of intense mixing.

It’s critical to maintain near-cryogenic reactor temperature to achieve the target molecular weight of butyl rubber. To this end, the polymerization and agitator heat are removed by boiling liquid ethylene on the reactor jacket. All reactor inputs are properly cooled before entering the reactor. Ambient losses are minimized by extensive insulation. Also, to promote heat transfer, the reaction fluid is vigorously circulated through numerous three-inch tubes using a high-volume pump within the reactor.

The problem is that the precipitating sub-micron particles generated during the synthesis aggregate, foul the reactor tube surface area, and form an incrementally thickening film that severely deteriorates the heat transfer capability of the reactor. Cooling becomes insufficient due to the added heat-transfer resistance, and the reactor requires cleaning with a solvent.

The film fouling results in the reactor operating in a cyclic fashion, with the time required to periodically clean the reactor. This leads to the stoppage of rubber production, with a substantial negative economic impact.

Prior Efforts

Efforts to understand fundamental principles of film fouling to fix it have spanned almost 80 years, starting in the 1940s and extending to our days.

Multiple parameters were studied: catalyst selection, mixing intensity, feed/catalyst injection methodology, surface coatings, and various surfaces roughness characteristics, including electropolishing. Unfortunately, all these attempts failed to achieve more than a slight reduction in deposition.  

Also, reactors have been operated at lower temperatures and this approach, too, had only minimal gains. Introducing active agents like methanol reduces fouling but simultaneously leads to catalyst poisoning.

All these unsuccessful attempts only highlight the need to continue finding ways to fight film fouling.

The Challenge

By posting this Challenge, the Seeker wants to find new, untested, and perhaps even unorthodox approaches to eliminating the formation of rubber film – or, at the very least, to reducing it by more than 50%.


The Seeker poses no restrictions regarding the nature of proposed solutions for as long as they meet the following Solution Requirements:

  1. The proposed solutions must be suitable for low-temperature, liquid-filled reactors operating at a wide range of ambient conditions.
  2. Ideally, the proposed solution should fit the existing design of butyl resin manufacturing facility. However, if some minor facility changes are proposed, the Solver should provide enough information (either detailed description or references to published precedents) to implement the proposed change.
  3. The preferred solutions will be those that don’t involve using additives. However, if the proposed solution does involve an additive, the following two conditions should be met:
    • The use of the additive should not negatively affect the quality of the final product.
    • A detailed description of the additive (and not just giving a trade name) must be provided: density, solubility, freezing point, flow rate/concentration, liquid/gas/solid state, compatibility with other reaction components, and market availability.

Very important:

  • The Seeker would strongly prefer solutions that have already been implemented in similar field conditions elsewhere, so that these solutions could be tested at the Seeker’s facilities without extensive additional research.
  • Alternatively, the Seeker would appreciate proposals supported by lab-scale demonstrations. To this end, Solvers who can perform such lab-scale demonstrations on the Seeker’s request should explicitly state that in their proposals.

At the same time, the Seeker will not accept solutions based on:

  • Novel reactor designs that require large-scale replacement of equipment.
  • Approaches that are not compatible with the existing polymerization process or would significantly decrease the monomer or catalysts productivity.
  • Additive used at the concentrations that would significantly alter physical properties of the final product or impact its suitability to “sensitive” applications (like pharmaceutical products or medical devices).

Solutions with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 2-5 are invited.

This is a Prize Challenge, which has the following features:

  1. There will be a guaranteed award of $25,000, with at least one award being $10,000 or larger and no award being smaller than $5,000.
  2. The award distribution will be determined after theoretical evaluation of the proposals by the Seeker.
  3. By submitting a proposal, the Solver grants the Seeker a right to use any information included in their proposal.
  4. The Seeker may also issue “Honourable Mention” recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary awards.


Please login and register your interest, to complete the submission form.

The submitted proposals must be written in English and can include:

  1. Participation type – you will first be asked to inform us how you are participating in this challenge, as a Solver (Individual) or Solver (Organization).
  2. Solution Stage - the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your solution, TRL1-3 ideation stage, TRL4-6 proof of concept stage, TRL7-9 production ready stage.
  3. Problem & Opportunity - highlight the innovation in your approach to the Problem, its point of difference, and the specific advantages/benefits this brings (up to 500 words).
  4. Solution Overview - detail the features of your solution and how they address the Solution Requirements (up to 500 words, there is space to add more, and to add any appropriate supporting data, diagrams, etc).
  5. Experience - Expertise, use cases and skills you or your organization have in relation to your proposed solution. The Seeker may wish to partner at the conclusion of the Challenge; please include a statement indicating your interest in partnering (up to 500 words).
  6. Solution Risks - any risks you see with your solution and how you would plan for this (up to 500 words).
  7. Timeline, capability and costs - describe what you think is required to deliver the solution, estimated time and cost (up to 500 words).
  8. References - provide links to any publications or press releases of relevance (up to 500 words).

Wazoku encourages the use by Solvers of AI approaches to help develop their submissions, though any produced solely with generative AI are not of interest.

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Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on February 12, 2024.  

Late submissions will not be considered.

Your submission will be evaluated by the evaluation team first reviewing the information and content you have submitted at the submission form, with attachments used as additional context to your form submission. Submissions relying solely on attachments will receive less attention from the evaluation team.

After the Challenge submission due date, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the winning solution(s) according to the timeline in the Challenge header. All Solvers who submit a proposal will be notified about the status of their submissions.

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