Maira ALVES FORTUNATO
Recognized expertise in the field of catalysis, separation and processes.
Integration in a public-private partnership ecosystem with the collaborative platform Axel’One.
A proven transfer model in which IFPEN’s innovations are taken to market by its industrial partners, who handle industrial scale-up and marketing. Its subsidiary Axens is one such example.
IFPEN’s research is aimed at developing new innovative and eco-efficient 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.
Thanks to the development of a new palladium-based catalytic phase and optimized support preparation, IFPEN has created a new selective hydrogenation catalyst, for sulfur-laden “pyrolysis gasoline” cuts. This catalyst offers improvements in terms of activity, stability and lifespan. It makes it possible to obtain the same performance as the previous generation but for cuts with a higher sulfur content, significantly reducing the unit’s energy consumption, with longer catalyst life cycles and lifespans. »
Karine Barthelet, project manager, IFPEN
Conversion of ethylene into alpha-olefins
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 increasing the efficiency of the processes and their operability. In particular, the AlphaHexol™ 1-hexene production technology based on the trimerization of ethylene marketed by Axens has been improved. The process, which addresses the significant increase in the demand for polyethylene-type high-performance plastics, makes it possible to obtain high-purity 1-hexene while consuming less energy.
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.
IFPEN and Arkema are constantly improving the molecular sieve with a view to increasing productivity compared to the previous generation, while enabling the production of ultra-pure paraxylene, highly sought-after by the chemicals industry. These innovative sieves thus address 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.
IFPEN is currently perfecting the Eluxyl® technology on equipment installed at the IFPEN-Lyon site. Thus, following the creation of the world’s first unit operating with only 15 separation beds, this technology has now been further improved to enable the use of new, more efficient xylene separation molecular sieves. IFPEN is also working to optimize the overall paraxylene production complex from an energy and economic point of view »
Éric Lemaire, project manager, IFPEN
OVERVIEW AND CHALLENGES
Petrochemical processes are designed to convert oil and natural gas cuts into base chemicals (the major intermediates) for the chemicals industry, such as olefins and aromatics.
These compounds are subsequently used to manufacture chemicals used in a number of fields: plastics processing, pharmacy, agriculture, cosmetics, electronics, motor vehicle, aviation, textile, etc.
The increase in demand for consumer goods, particularly in emerging countries, is leading to a significant rise in the demand for petrochemical intermediates, and particularly for ethylene, propylene, paraxylene, alphaolefins and benzene.
This growth in demand is taking place at a time when the petrochemicals sector is impacted by:
- major changes associated with fundamental societal trends such as:
- commitments made by signatory countries to the Paris agreement concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,
- the search for substitutes for chemical intermediates of fossil origin,
- the significant development of plastics recycling,
- greater consideration of the environmental impact of industrial processes.
- contrasting situations depending on the region in question with:
- in North America, very low ethane, propane and natural gas prices boosting the American petrochemicals sector and its downstream industries,
- the rapid extension of petrochemical capacities in the Middle East and China.
In this context, while the long-term outlook concerning chemical intermediate production is very favorable, the petrochemicals industry is currently undergoing profound transformations. These include:
- the development of dedicated processes for the production of superior-quality olefins and diolefins,
- the emergence of complete, petrochemicals-oriented refineries (Oil to Chemicals refining system), which, ultimately, are set to radically alter regional production balances for certain products,
- the increased integration between refining sites and petrochemicals sites, particularly in Europe, aimed at improving site profitability by producing more chemicals and fewer fuels,
- the emerging use of new raw materials from biomass or plastics recycling,
- the gradual transformation of industrial facilities driven by the digital revolution under way.
These trends are generating substantial investments in the global petrochemicals sector, along with the need for new technologies to adapt to new raw materials (ethane, propane, biomass, plastic recyclates), as well as different refining site configurations.
Developing innovative and eco-efficient petrochemical intermediate production processes to support market demand.
Responsible oil and gas
Against the backdrop of the accelerating energy transition, the oil industry and related sectors need to continue to meet sustained demand, while significantly reducing their environmental footprint and energy consumption. IFPEN develops eco-efficient and flexible processes for the production of fuel and chemical intermediates meeting the strictest standards. To make better use of reserves, IFPEN also proposes increasingly efficient and cleaner, cutting-edge technologies for oil and gas exploration and production.
- Gas treatment
- Basins and reservoirs modeling and simulation
- Enhanced oil recovery (EOR)
- Risers and flow lines