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Technology Profile: Isopropyl Alcohol Production from Acetone

By Intratec Solutions |

This column is based on “Isopropyl Alcohol Production from Acetone – Cost Analysis,” a report published by Intratec. It can be found at: www.intratec.us/analysis/isopropyl-alcohol-production-cost.

Isopropyl alcohol (also known as isopropanol or 2-propanol) is a colorless and flammable liquid with a strong odor. Isopropyl alcohol was among the first petrochemical products to be industrially manufactured — it has been produced since 1920.

The main applications of isopropyl alcohol are as a chemical intermediate, and as a solvent in the manufacturing of cements, primers, paints, varnishes, skin cleaners, perfumes, lotions, shampoos and deodorants. It is also used as a disinfectant and antiseptic.

Figure 1. The diagram shows isopropanol production via acetone hydrogenation

The process

The present analysis discusses an industrial hydrogenation process for isopropanol production. The process comprises two main sections: (1) reaction; and (2) purification.

Reaction. Hydrogen gas is compressed and fed, along with liquid acetone, to the upper part of a circulation reactor. The circulating mixture passes through a gas-liquid separation vessel. Part of the liquid is cooled — removing the heat generated by the exothermic reaction — and recycled to the reactor. The remainder is cooled and routed to a second reactor, followed by a second vapor-liquid separation stage. The liquid portion obtained after the second vapor-liquid separation is sent to the purification stage. The vapor portion is mixed with the vapors from the first gas-liquid separation and also sent to the purification stage.

Purification. In the purification step, the vapors from the reaction are fed to a condenser, where isopropanol and unreacted acetone are recovered. Most of the uncondensed vapor is recycled to the hydrogen compressors. The remaining part of the hydrogen-rich gaseous stream, as well as the condensate from the condenser and the liquid product from the reaction are fed to a deaeration tank to remove any gases dissolved in the crude liquid product. The crude product is then dehydrated with molecular sieves, and is finally fed into a purification column, from which purified Isopropanol product is withdrawn as a side stream. Low-boiling components are separated as the column’s overheads product, while high-boiling impurities are obtained as the bottoms product.

Production pathways

The two main starting materials for isopropanol manufacture are propylene and acetone. Propylene can be reacted with water directly, or indirectly (in the presence of sulfuric acid), to form isopropanol. Acetone, on the other hand, is transformed into isopropanol via a hydrogenation process. Figure 2 presents three different pathways for the production of isopropanol.

Figure 2. Isopropanol production pathways can begin from both propylene and acetone

Economic performance

The total operating cost (including raw materials, utilities, fixed costs and depreciation costs) estimated to produce isopropanol was about $940 per ton of isopropanol in the third quarter of 2016. The analysis was based on a plant constructed in the U.S. with the capacity to produce 60,000 metric tons per year of isopropyl alcohol.

Edited by Scott Jenkins

Editor’s note: The content for this column is supplied by Intratec Solutions LLC (Houston; www.intratec.us) and edited by Chemical Engineering. The analyses and models presented are prepared on the basis of publicly available and non-confidential information. The content represents the opinions of Intratec only. More information about the methodology for preparing analysis can be found, along with terms of use, at www.intratec.us/che.

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