USA: Green Solution Eco Catalytic Scales up New Ethylene Production Process

Editor: Ahlam Rais

The new process is expected to reduce CO2 emissions for ethylene production by 80 per cent. The project is considered as a vital building block for the petrochemical industry in the US and across the globe.

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Feed control system for Eco Catalytic’s new ethylene process pilot unit at the Southwest Research Institute in the USA.
Feed control system for Eco Catalytic’s new ethylene process pilot unit at the Southwest Research Institute in the USA.
(Source: Business Wire)

Woburn/USA – Eco Catalytic has successfully scaled-up a new, lower environmental footprint process for the production of a key petrochemical building block. Commercialised, Eco Catalytic’s new process will reduce CO2 emissions for ethylene production by over 80 % compared to conventional steam cracking. In addition, Eco Catalytic’s process has essentially no NOx emissions, another major environmental concern with the conventional process.

Commercial steam cracking is a high-temperature and energy-intensive process, producing up to 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per tonne of product. Estimates place annual CO2 totals from steam cracking at 60 million tonnes in the U.S. and over 260 million tonnes globally. Eco Catalytic has numerous issued and pending patents on key aspects of its transformational replacement technology, based on Chemical Looping Catalysis, and continues its research and scale-up efforts.

In this highly efficient looping process, a proprietary metal oxide oxygen transfer agent provides the oxygen for the selective conversion of ethane to ethylene and water in the first reactor bed. The metal oxide is then re-oxidised with air in the second reactor bed, regenerating the oxygen transfer agent and supplying the necessary heat for the process. Overall, this results in 80 % fewer CO2 emissions than conventional steam cracking furnaces, and has lower heat demand.

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The oxygen transport agent separates oxygen from air and selectively oxidises in-situ-generated hydrogen that results from conversion of hydrocarbons to ethylene and other olefins. “This oxygen transport agent functions like hemoglobin in respiration, but at a much higher temperature and much larger scale,” explains John A. Sofranko, PhD, CEO and founder of Eco Catalytic. “We are extremely proud of this groundbreaking project, which aims to dramatically improve the sustainability of the production of ethylene, a key building block for the petrochemical industry in the U.S. and globally.”

The technology development is funded by a 2 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and an additional 2 million dollars in company matching contributions. Eco Catalytic has verified their laboratory-scale results in a 1,000-fold scale-up pilot unit at Southwest Research Institute (Swri) in San Antonio, USA. Swri fabricated, built-up and currently operates the pilot unit. A leading catalyst supplier manufactured the proprietary catalyst used in the process.

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