Coatings promise cooler cracking and more

Aug. 29, 2005

Coatings containing catalyst may allow steam crackers to produce ethylene and other olefins at lower temperatures, reducing energy consumption and emissions, hopes a Canadian consortium. The technology could cut the energy costs of olefins’ manufacturing by up to 20% and significantly improve plant efficiency, say its backers. It also may open up new opportunities for catalysts elsewhere in the chemical industry.

The consortium is led by Quantiam Technologies, Edmonton, developer of the coating. The group also includes NOVA Chemicals, a major olefins’ producer.  It budgeted C$16.8-million for the entire project at its inception in 2001 and recently has secured some public sector funding to complete the final stages of trial manufacturing and to demonstrate the technology in the field; Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a foundation created by the Canadian government, is one of the two public-sector entities providing C$1.45 million in support for these final two stages.

By using the catalytic coatings on furnace coils, the consortium hopes to achieve a reduction of 50-100°C in operating temperatures. Such coated coils could be retrofitted to many of the 1,400 crackers now operating worldwide.

“Coatings are under development that integrate catalyst formulations into commercially viable material systems using current industry furnace alloys and that are adaptable to the next generation of furnace materials,” says Steve Petrone, president of Quantiam. He anticipates that more than one coating formulation will be required to address the full range of feedstocks used by the industry. “The coatings are best described as composites, consisting of metallic and ceramic constituents, and exclude expensive constituents such as precious metals,” he notes. The use of nanoscale materials is crucial to the success of the coatings whose formulations and structures are proprietary.

A pilot plant for coating tubes (via a proprietary technique) has been built and commissioned by Quantiam, says Petrone. “We are scaling-up key unit operations to achieve coating of commercial-scale prototypes and the facility should commence prototype manufacturing for field trials in this quarter,” he notes. By the first quarter of 2006, he expects sufficient capacity for coating tubes and fittings to allow significant-sized field trials.

All output initially will go to NOVA, for trials at its Joffre, Alta., and Corunna, Ont., complexes. Field testing of coated-tube life is already underway. “Several staged field trials are contemplated at NOVA between now and mid-2007, with different fractions of full furnaces, different feedstocks, different furnace technologies, and evaluation under a range of operating conditions — aimed to maximize learnings and optimize product prior to launch,” says Petrone.

Commercial introduction is expected in 2007, he adds. Quantiam plans to supply finished coils and other coated parts.

“The integration of catalyst functionality into a coating is expected to provide other potential opportunities not currently considered appropriate for ‘classical’ use of catalysts,” says Petrone.
Quantiam already has commercialized a coating of a metal-matrix composite based on nanomaterials that improves the corrosion- /erosion-resistance of metals used at temperatures of up to 1,150°C (CP, Jan., p.13).

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