New Catalysts Emerge

A variety of processes will benefit.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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"The Gen-1-ethane product is expected to be available commercially by year-end with the completion of one lifecycle field testing, and as we complete our assessment of coil samples and operating results, we will undertake any further optimization that may be warranted before commercial introduction."

The Gen-1-ethane product is delivering its expected benefits and Gen-1-naptha and Gen-2 are on target to achieve theirs, too, he adds. Specific results and goals include:

• Furnace run-length — Gen-1 achieved 1–2 years for lighter feedstocks and 100–400 days for heavier feedstocks, much better than the typical run of 10–90 days for uncoated coils; Gen-2 targets are 1,000+ days for lighter feedstocks and 200–500 days for heavier feedstocks;

• Energy and greenhouse-gas reductions — Gen-1 gave a 3–12% decrease for both lighter and heavier feedstocks; Gen-2 aims for a further 5–20% decrease for both feedstocks;

• Furnace coil lifetime: Gen-1-ethane provided one full lifecycle exceeding 4 years, which is on par with uncoated coils, while the Gen1-naptha is still undergoing its first lifecycle field testing, which should be completed in 2013; the goal for Gen-2 is 6–12 years for both feedstocks;

• Process temperature reduction: Gen-1 cut temperature by 20–60°C with both feedstocks; Gen-2 targets a 40–100°C reduction with both feedstocks.

Meanwhile, Velocys, Plain City, Ohio, is working on design and development of Fischer-Tropsch (FT) microchannel reactors (Figure 3) that enable reactions to occur at rates 10–15 times quicker than in conventional systems. The reactors consist of blocks containing thousands of narrow process channels filled with FT catalyst, which are interleaved with water-filled coolant channels. This provides much faster dissipation of the heat produced by the highly exothermic FT reaction than in conventional systems — and thus allows use of more-active FT catalysts, ones made by the proprietary organic matrix combustion (OMX) process of sister company Oxford Catalysts.

"Our OMX method allows us to produce highly controlled particle sizes with narrow distributions. So, therefore, the catalyst is highly active, stable and selective. In FT catalysis, all three are challenges — and especially in the microchannel business where catalysts need to be vastly more productive," says Kai Jarosch, Veolocys' manager, catalyst and material sciences.

"Our catalysts are head-and-shoulders above what is seen anywhere else. For example, in a typical slurry bed you would be looking at a catalyst producing 250 kg/m3/h of product. Our OMX catalyst achieved 1,500 kg/m3/h in a demonstration project," he notes.

This and other demonstration projects are opening up a host of opportunities for microchannel FT, particularly in gas-to-liquid (GTL) related activities, Jarosch adds.

"The growing disconnect between the price of gas and the price of oil is really helping us. The continued increase in gas discoveries, for example the huge recent shale gas find in the U.S., [is] increasing the differential between the two prices. The gas people want to convert their product into oil.

"On offshore GTL, we generate a real bang for the buck because we can achieve high productivity with a compact footprint. For example a 2,000-bbl/d GTL reactor takes up only one-quarter the space on a deck of a floating production vessel. Conventional technologies cannot meet the footprint, weight and height restrictions for floating production."

 In late 2011, the company will start operation of a GTL demonstration plant at a Petrobras facility in Fortaleza, Brazil, that will incorporate microchannel FT and steam reforming reactor and catalysts technologies. The unit, which will run at least six months, will demonstrate the fully integrated GTL process and support initial commercial installations. Velocys already is participating in funded engineering studies for these first plants.

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