Specialty chemicals maker Albemarle Corporation and its partners ABB Lummus Global and Neste Oil have developed and tested a new higher performance solid acid catalyst for their leading-edge AlkyClean solid acid alkylation process, a low-risk process that can drastically improve the process safety of existing refinery processes and reduce hazards associated with transportation and handling of liquid acids used to produce alkylate, the high-octane blending component that is used to improve the antiknock value of fuels.
Albemarle's AlkyStar catalyst, for use exclusively with the AlkyClean alkylation process, features 25 percent higher activity and 35 percent lower precious metal content than previous AlkyClean alkylation catalysts, and is based on an advanced new zeolite concept developed by Albemarle's R&D group to further improve the economics of the AlkyClean technology. The new catalyst technology from Albemarle should provide fuel refiners a profitable addition to their processing portfolio as they strive to meet regulatory-driven demand for both cleaner fuels and greener refining.
"Refining managers traditionally have had two options for acid catalysts when it comes to alkylation-sulfuric acid or hydrofluoric acid. Both are liquids and neither one is ideal from a handling perspective," said Ray Hurley, Albemarle Vice President of Alternative Fuels Technology. "The AlkyClean process gives them an attractive option that can reduce risk and improve process economics. It brings instant value to any refiner who is short on alkylate, and we believe AlkyClean will become the leading solid acid alkylation technology in the world.
"The innovative, new AlkyStar catalyst, developed by our R&D and manufacturing teams, will deliver an additional step change in performance for our valued clients," Hurley said, "and continues our tradition of providing proactive, sustainable solutions to the global fuel refining marketplace."
Alkylate is the high-octane product of a refining process called alkylation, the reaction of isobutane with light olefins such as propylene and butylene. Alkylate is highly valued as an ideal "clean fuels" blending component in the gasoline pool because it has no olefins, benzene or other aromatic compounds. Alkylate also has a low sulfur content, a limited heavy end, a low vapor pressure and both high research and high motor octane numbers. Currently about 30 billion gallons per year of alkylate are produced worldwide.
Relying on patented technology combined with Albemarle's long-lasting and durable new AlkyStar catalyst, the AlkyClean alkylation process from Albemarle, ABB Lummus and Neste Oil provides refiners with a competitive, cleaner and inherently safer alkylation technology.
No acid-soluble oils or spent acids are produced, and there is no need for product post-treatment of any kind. Besides these environmental advantages, the AlkyClean solid acid alkylation process has proven to be robust, requiring minimal maintenance.
The zeolite-based AlkyStar catalyst has exhibited tolerance to both upsets and exposure to high levels of contaminants. The catalyst's ability to be easily and repeatedly regenerated with full activity recovery, has been demonstrated over long periods of use.
Based on more than two years of successful operation of a demonstration unit using actual refinery feedstocks and confirmed by benchmarking efforts, the AlkyClean process has proven to be a reliable and cost-competitive alternative to existing liquid acid technologies.