Ethylene is one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world and is an essential building block of many plastics and other chemicals. Today, most domestic ethylene is produced from ethane by steam cracking plants that are extremely energy intensive, emit a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), and require huge capital investments to build. The United States leads the world in ethylene production, supplying about 20% of the world’s demand. The recent increase in domestic production of natural gas, from which ethane is isolated, has resulted in a sharp decrease in ethane prices. Producing ethylene from inexpensive, domestic ethane using a small-scale system could enable the United States to further its lead as the world’s greatest ethylene producer. Furthermore, changing the ethylene production process could greatly reduce the amount of CO2 and NOx emissions and costs associated with ethylene production.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The team led by Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a conventional automotive engine as a reactor to convert ethane into ethylene by using a new catalyst and reactor design that could enable record-breaking conversion yields. The technology proposed by GTI would use a reciprocating engine as a variable volume oxidative dehydrogenation (ODH) reactor. This means a conventional engine would be modified with a new valving mechanism that would take advantage of high flow rates and high pressure and temperature regime that already exists in an internal combustion engine. This process requires no energy input, does produce minimal CO2 emissions, and improves yields to about 80% at one third the cost. The ODH reactor engine’s relatively small size and high throughput will enable ethylene producers to add ethylene production capacity without the financial risk of building a billion-dollar steam cracking plant. This technology will reduce energy-related emissions and could enable the U.S. plastics industry to increase utilization of low-cost, domestic ethane to produce ethylene for plastics.
If successful, the reactor engine developed by GTI would significantly reduce CO2 emissions associated with ethylene production and increase the global competitiveness of the U.S. plastics industry by reducing infrastructure costs and risks.
The team’s innovation could enhance the domestic supply of ethylene for decades to come
This technology will reduce CO2 emissions in ethylene production.
The reactor engine developed would allow the U.S. plastics industry to produce plastic at a much lower cost and without the need to build extremely large and expensive plants.