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A promising zeolite for ethylene separation

By Gerald Ondrey |

Scientists from ExxonMobil (Irving, Tex.; www.exxonmobil.com) and the Institute of Chemical Technology (ITQ; Valencia, Spain; http://itq.upv-csic.es) have discovered a new material that could significantly reduce the amount of energy and emissions associated with the production of ethylene. Depending on the application, use of the new material, in conjunction with other novel separation processes, could result in up to a 25% reduction in both the energy needed to separate ethylene from ethane, as well as the associated CO2 emissions. Results of the research have been published in a recent issue of Science.

The patented new material, ITQ-55, is a silica zeolite that can selectively adsorb ethylene over ethane as a result of its unique flexible pore structure. Built from heart-shaped cages interconnected by flexible elongated pore openings, the material allows the diffusion of the flatter ethylene molecules as opposed to the more cylindrical-shaped ethane molecules. The new material acts as a flexible molecular sieve, and has an unprecedented degree of selectivity at ambient temperature, says ExxonMobil.

Although more work is required before the new technology can be applied industrially, it could become an economically superior alternative to conventional cryogenic distillation, when further developed.

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