Siluria Is Looking Pretty Sharp
For the first time, IHS put on a Technology Seminar as part of its World Petrochemical Conference activities last week. Don Bari and Jeff Plotkin, both formerly with Nexant, organized the gathering. At more than 100, the attendance was pretty good, especially for an inaugural event that is part of a larger conference.
The first speaker was Guido Radaelli, vice president of engineering at Siluria Technologies, which is working on the oxidative coupling of methane (OCM) into ethylene. The term Holy Grail is thrown about often in the chemical industry. But it is no exaggeration for this technology. If perfected, such a technology would bestride the chemical world like a colossus. One leg would be that methane is a cheaper and more plentiful raw material than ethane. The other leg would be the considerable energy savings over ethane steam cracking because methane conversion would be exothermic.
With such rewards, many have tried before and failed,notably Arco and Union Carbide, which both had serious programs along these lines in the 80s.
Things are going fairly well for Siluria. The company is partnering with Braskem to build a demonstration plant in Texas. It also unveiled an ethlylene-to-liquids technology that would convert ethylene into aromatics and transportation fuels. They’ll need some pretty cheap ethylene to make that work.
Which brings us back to Siluria’s progress on OCM. Radaelli said that the company has made more headway than any company ever has in methane conversion into ethylene. The activity of the catalyst is higher, he said. The operating conditions are “many hundreds of degrees lower”. (I think this is one of the main factors that killed previous efforts.) The Siluria catalysts last years, not days, unlike previous efforts. Conversion and selectivity are thus far the same as they had been in the past.
I was a little surprised to find out what actually happens in the process, as there is some ethane cracking occurring. It is powered by the heat of the conversion of methane into ethylene. I have included Siluria’s slide of the block diagram as well as one describing feedstock use.
Radaelli claims economic advantages over (conventional?) steam cracking. He said that, hypothetically, if a company were to build a 1,000,000 metric ton ethylene cracker and a 1,000,00 metric ton plant using Siluria’s technology, Siluria’s technology would have been more profitable to run in each of the four years beginning in 2009. Similarly, if a company would have built a 75,000-metric-ton plant using the Siluria technology in 2014, it would have by now saved more than $100 million in ethylene purchases. (The stand alone back-integration scenario seems to be a target for the technology.)