Alcohols to alkenes

Catalytic oxidation of 4-carbon alcohols to produce 4-carbon olefins with yields greater than 90 percent


Butanols are a desirable hydrocarbon source for energy and chemical industries mainly because they are easily available through fermentation of non-food biomass and wastewater. Butanol derivatives are valuable starting materials for chemical industries to make synthetic fuels, lubricants, and other high-value chemicals.

For example, 1-butene is used in the creation of high-density polyethylene as well as linear low-density polyethylene. 2-butene is a starting material for lubricants as well as agricultural chemicals and through metathesis, it reacts with ethylene to form propylene. It is also a starting point for the production of synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) via the oligomerization of 4-carbon olefins. The derivatives above are commonly produced in a batch process via dehydration of butanol isomers in a heat-intensive, catalytic reaction.

To address the energy requirements of the dehydration method above, Army researchers have developed a continuous flow, catalytic process for selectively converting alcohols (butanols) to olefins (butenes), through a process starting with a supply of oxygen gas, providing the alcohols, atomizing and evaporating the alcohols to produce a fuel vapor, mixing the vapor with oxygen to form a fuel mixture, and reacting the fuel mixture in the presence of a solid heterogeneous catalysts of Rh/Al2O3 and/or Al2O3. The reactor temperature is less than 600° C.

Unlike the dehydration process, this invention is an oxidative process (combustion). The combustion of 1-butanol is extremely exothermic and this heat production enables the reaction to perform auto-thermally. In contrast, the traditional dehydration process requires external heating to maintain catalyst temperature at about 300° C. to 500° C.

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