IFPEN is working on the development of new processes, catalysts and biocatalysts for the transformation of biomass into bases for the chemicals sector: alcohols, olefins and diolefins, oxygenated platform molecules and aromatics.
OLEFIN PRODUCTION FROM BIO-ALCOHOLS
In partnership with Total and Axens, IFPEN has developed two original and competitive bio-based production technologies:
- Atol-C2™, used to produce bioethylene via the dehydration of renewable ethanol obtained by fermentation. The bioethylene produced can be directly integrated in existing polymerization units, for the production of polyethylene, polystyrene, PET and polyvinyl chloride. The process and the catalyst developed have been marketed by Axens since 2012. Optimized in terms of energy efficiency and with an excellent performance in terms of activity and ethylene selectivity, Atol-C2™ is considered to be the most advanced and most profitable dehydration technology available on the market, with reduced investment and operating costs;
- Atol-C4™, fermented isobutanol dehydration technology for the production of biobutenes, used for the manufacture of fuels, plastics and elastomers. The catalyst and process developed make it possible to very selectively produce linear butenes with a very high rate of isobutanol conversion from a biomass-based branched compound such as isobutanol. Compared to conventional, oil-based production methods, this conversion process makes it possible to radically reduce CO2 emissions. Atol-C4™ has been marketed by Axens since 2017.
In addition, IFPEN is conducting research aimed at developing a process for converting sugars into bio-mono-ethylene glycol (bio-MEG) for the production of bio-based polyesters.
The BioButterfly project is aimed at developing a butadiene production process using fermented ethanol of plant origin. Supported by Ademe, the project brings together Axens, IFPEN and Michelin and is being conducted as part of a strategy to create a French bio-based synthetic rubber sector for the manufacture of tires.
"The BioButterfly project covers all the research and development steps for a butadiene production process, from fundamental scientific concepts through to validation on an industrial simulator of the various catalysis and separation operations. We conducted the first experiments on pilot units installed at the IFPEN Lyon site in 2017. The experimental data acquired confirmed the economic and environmental performance of the process compared to the fossil option. Research has continued with the definition of an extrapolation pilot unit, the construction of which started at the beginning of 2020. This pre-industrial experimentation unit will enable IFPEN to validate the operation of the process and the quality of the butadiene produced. We are targeting industrial production of the technology by 2022."
Raphaël Huygue, project manager, IFPEN
700 catalysts tested during high-throughput experimentation and 300 catalytic tests conducted on pilot unit.
In 2015, IFPEN and Axens joined forces with American company Anellotech to develop Bio-TCat, a bio-aromatic production technology (BTX for benzene, toluene and xylene) based on renewable raw materials. By combining Anellotech’s process for the thermocatalytic conversion of non-food lignocellulosic biomass with Axens’ hydrotreatment process, the objective is to achieve 100% bio-based BTX in few steps, while minimizing costs, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. These bio-aromatics will find numerous applications, particularly in polyesters for bottles and textile fibers. Bio-TCat will also enable the production of a very high-quality gasoline base.
The TCat-8® pilot unit installed at Anellotech’s site in Silsbee (Texas) has been operating since 2017 with a view to demonstrating the technological and economic viability of thermocatalytic conversion. A major testing program has been launched in order to acquire the operational data required for the industrial scale-up of the process. The research is being conducted with the support of IFPEN personnel present on the site. Since the success of a continuous test conducted over a period of 14 days by Anellotech in 2018, the TCat-8® unit has recorded a cumulative total of more than 4,000 hours of bio-BTX production. In February 2019 Anellotech, IFPEN and Axens announced they had successfully produced bio-based aromatics at Anellotech’s TCat-8® pilot plant in Texas, and extracted ultra-pure bio-based paraxylene meeting all of the ASTM’s international specifications. This success represents an important step in the project, which will lead to the production of 100 % bio-based PET bottles. Next step: the purification of larger quantities of paraxylene for the manufacture of renewable PET bottle prototypes. Once the development phase has been completed, the industrialization and marketing of Bio-TCat™ technology will be handled by Axens.
BIO-BASED ALCOHOL PRODUCTION
In addition to ethanol production from non-food lignocellulosic biomass using the Futurol™ process recently marketed by Axens, IFPEN is conducting research to develop biotechnological processes for the production of bio-based propanol and butanol. A stable microorganism has been discovered and research is continuing to define the best technological configuration in order to obtain a viable process.