IFPEN’s research is aimed at developing new catalysts, adsorbents and petrochemical intermediate production processes, and improving the performance of existing technologies, while increasing the purity of the products obtained and consuming less energy.
In the field of olefin intermediates (ethylene, propylene, butadiene, etc.), obtained by steam cracking or catalytic cracking, research primarily focuses on olefin purification via selective hydrogenation. The solutions developed make it possible to comply with the most stringent purity specifications, particularly for plastics production via polymerization.
« The steam cracking process is a key element for the production of olefins such as ethylene (C2 cut) and propylene (C3 cut), for which global demand has risen significantly, and naphtha (pyrolysis gasoline cut). To be used, these cuts need to be purified; specific processes and catalysts developed by IFPEN in partnership with Axens make it possible to selectively hydrogenate them in order to achieve impurity contents of less than 1 ppm.
In 2018, thanks to the development of a new palladium-based catalytic phase and optimized support preparation, IFPEN created two new generations of more effective selective hydrogenation catalysts:
- for the “pyrolysis gasoline” cut, a new catalyst that offers improvements in terms of activity, stability and lifespan. This means that it makes it possible to obtain the same performance as the previous generation but at a lower temperature, significantly reducing the unit’s energy consumption, with longer life cycles and lifespans,
- for the “propylene” cut, a new catalyst presenting enhanced activity and selectivity as well as improved stability with respect to operating condition variations, and a broader range of operating conditions.
This new generation of catalysts will enable Axens, which is handling industrial development and marketing, to optimize its offer and consolidate its position as selective hydrogenation market leader.” »
Anne-Agathe Quoineaud, project manager, IFPEN
Conversion of ethylene into alpha-olefins
Linear alpha-olefins (1-butene, 1-hexene, 1-octene) are used as ingredients in numerous grades of polyethylene-type plastics. IFPEN is pursuing research aimed at converting ethylene into 1-butene (AlphaButol® process) and 1-hexene (AlphaHexol™ process). Its teams have thus developed catalytic formulations making it possible to selectively obtain the products, with a very high level of purity, while improving the efficiency of the processes and their operability. With the aim of meeting a market need and extending the range of processes, ambitious research is under way concerning the development of a production process for 1-octene from ethylene.
30 AlphaButol units around the world, representing a 1-butene production capacity of 708,000 Mt/year.
In the field of aromatics (benzene, toluene, xylenes), primarily produced via catalytic reforming or naphtha steam cracking, IFPEN’s research is aimed at meeting the significant market demand for paraxylene, widely used for plastic packaging (PET bottles, for example) and synthetic textile fibers.
« In the context of a long-standing partnership with Arkema, IFPEN is working on the formulation of high-performance adsorbents for the Eluxyl® paraxylene separation process, marketed by Axens.
In 2017, IFPEN and Arkema finalized a new molecular sieve delivering a 140% increase in productivity compared to the previous generation, while enabling the production of ultra-pure paraxylene, highly sought-after by the chemicals industry. This innovation thus addresses a strong market demand. It also consolidates Axens’ leading position in the segment as the company that markets the Eluxyl® process included in the ParamaX® paraxylene production complex, with more than 20 units around the world. As a result of these successes, Arkema built a new production unit at its Honfleur plant, where the molecular sieves for the Eluxyl® process are manufactured. Inaugurated in April 2017, this unit has doubled the plant’s production capacity and created local jobs.
Today, IFPEN is pursuing research to optimize Eluxyl® technology, which will make it possible to use new, more effective xylene separation molecular sieves. IFPEN is also working to optimize the overall paraxylene production complex from an energy and economic point of view. In 2018, new equipment was installed at the IFPEN Lyon site in order to develop this technology and future generations of sieves. »
Éric Lemaire, project manager, IFPEN
More than 20 Eluxyl® units around the world, representing a paraxylene production capacity of more than 16 Mt/year.
A market share of around 50% for Axens’ new ParamaX® complexes.