Intratec report evaluates ethanol-to-ethylene economics

By Sue Retka Schill | July 10, 2013

A new report takes a close look at the potential for ethylene production from ethanol. Ethylene is the most produced organic chemical in the world, used in the production of multiple polymers and chemicals. While the predominant feedstock for ethylene is petroleum-based naptha, there are alternatives, including ethane from natural gas, methane and ethanol.

Houston-headquartered economic and technology advisory firm, Intratec Solutions LLC, has published the assessment, “Green Ethylene from Ethanol,” detailing the economics of an ethylene dehydration process outlined in a patent filed by BP Chemicals’ researchers.

In the proposed process, biomass-based ethanol is dehydrated in a fixed bed reactor under mild conditions, the Intratec announcement said. “According to BP Chemicals, milder reaction conditions lead to improved ethylene selectivity and yield, since moderate reaction temperatures reduce the formation of undesirable by-products, such as alkanes. Therefore, the use of some expensive cryogenic separation equipment could be limited, reducing associated capital requirements and operating costs.”

Intratec’s assessment evaluates the technical and economic performance of the process based on estimates for a plant producing 190 kiloton per annum (KTA) of polymer-grade ethylene, which the report abstract says would cost an estimated $230 million to build on the Gulf Coast. “The analysis performed indicates that a green ethylene plant relying on the process suggested by BP Chemicals must be able to sell the product at a price of about $1,840 per metric ton in order to become a profitable venture. This means that eco-friendly ethylene must be valued at a premium about 50 percent higher than that of fossil-based ethylene.”