Olefins: An Innovative Methane-Combustion Method of Production

Jun 20th, 2017

Chemical Engineering Journal has published the results of research on new noncatalytic methods for olefin production. Olefins, unsaturated hydrocarbons of propylene and ethylene, are major petrochemical products for today. A team of scientists from Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics of Russian Academy of Sciences together with the chemical physicists from Armenia offered several alternative methods of olefins production which are mainly based on the oxidative transformation of simple hydrocarbons.

For the polymer industry olefins are basic elements for the production of plastics, rubber, polypropylene and polyethene. In 2016 the global olefin production comprised 250 million tonnes. Simple olefins are produced by the method of pyrolysis of liquid hydrocarbons, mainly from naphtha, a non-refinable crude oil.  However, this method is expensive and therefore does not satisfy the growing demand for polypropylene and polyethene. For today producers need available raw materials and more efficient production technologies.

The lack of ethylene as a basic element for olefins was minimised after the wide introduction of ethane pyrolysis. Ethane was extracted from natural and shale gas.

For the last thirty years, a catalytic oxidative coupling of methane has been one of the most promising alternative methods to produce olefins but the technology has not been widely introduced. More successful was the way of producing olefins from natural gas. However, the producers were not inspired by this technology due to its low cost-effectiveness, huge capital intensity and complexity. The major product of pyrolysis of liquid hydrocarbons is ethane while the byproduct is polypropylene. The experts predict the short supply of polypropylene in the close future and insist natural gas should remain the main source for new methods of polypropylene production.

Russian and Armenian scientists have found the way how to increase propylene production from natural gas. In addition, they suggest the idea of producing olefins during the interaction of methane and its combustion products.  A basic principle is a non-catalytic technology of receiving hydrocarbons directly from methane. At the moment this innovative method requires scientific foundation followed by pilot-scale testing.