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Comment Processing & Handling

New catalyst geometry poised to re-shape ethanol-to-ethylene conversion

By Mary Page Bailey |

As chemical manufacturers continue to seek renewable alternatives for fossil-fuel feedstocks, bio-based ethanol is poised to be a crucial raw material in the ethylene value chain for products from jet fuel to plastics. The range of novel-shaped alumina catalyst developed by the Catalysts division of BASF SE (Ludwigshafen, Germany; catalysts.basf.com) is said to enable 99.5% selectivity and conversion for the ethanol-to-ethylene (E2E) conversion process. Later this year, BASF will expand its existing range of E2E alumina catalysts with the addition of a new star-shaped variant.

ethanol-to-ethylene

Source: BASF

“Normally, heterogeneous catalysts are offered in tablets or cylindrical extrudates, so this catalyst’s unique shape really sets it apart. The fins of the star maximize the active geometrical surface area for the reaction,” explains Kaidi Breiten, BASF’s global marketing manager for alumina and specialty catalysts. “Another advantage when you go from tablets or regular extrudates to these specially shaped extrudates is that the packed density in the bed, which is correlated with a maximized geometrical surface area, is significantly lower, impacting the overall cost optimization of the reaction,” adds Radu Craciun, technology manager for hydrogenation and specialty catalysts with BASF.

Furthermore, says Craciun, the novel geometry correlates to a longer catalyst lifetime because the shape facilitates a beneficial reaction operational temperature and pressure-drop profile. “In a gas-phase process, pressure drop is key, as well as the optimization of the temperature inside the catalyst reactor bed, which is also affected by the shape of the catalyst,” he adds. Currently, the new catalyst is undergoing a series of pilot trials with selected BASF customers, with a full commercial launch expected sometime in the third quarter of 2022.

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