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Development of a Process for Manufacturing Industrially Important Chemical Products from Sustainable, Bio-Based Glycerol

Jeffrey R. Seay1, Mario R. Eden2, Robert N. D'Alessandro3, Thomas Thomas4, Hubert Redlingshoefer5, and Christoph Weckbecker5. (1) Process Technology and Engineering Department, Degussa Corporation, 4301 Degussa Road, Mobile, AL 36590, (2) Department of Chemical Engineering, Auburn University, 230 Ross Hall, Auburn University, AL 36849-5127, (3) Process Engineering Department, Degussa Corporation, 4301 Degussa Road, PO Box 868, Theodore, AL 36590-0606, (4) Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of South Alabama, 307 N. University Blvd, Mobile, AL 36688, (5) Feed Additives Research, Degussa AG, Rodenbacher Chaussee 4, Hanau-Wolfgang, Germany

This research presents the second phase of a research study involving the development of a conceptual process to produce industrially important chemicals from sustainable, biomass derived glycerol. The motivation for this research is to identify cost effective processes with minimized environmental impacts that can utilize the glycerol produced as a side product of the manufacture of biodiesel from fatty acids as a feed stock for the production of an important specialty chemical intermediate. The goal of the first phase of this research was to use process simulation and modeling tools to identify economically optimized cost targets so that further research and development can be focused on the most economically viable options. Process simulation tools have been used to develop mass and energy balances for the proposed conceptual processes, determine the minimum utility requirements and analyze the economic potential of switching production from crude oil derived to sustainable, biomass derived feed stocks. Additionally, the Waste Reduction (WAR) Algorithm developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been used to analyze the potential environmental impact of each proposed conceptual process. This ensures that the most environmentally friendly processes are chosen from the economically viable options.

The results obtained in the first phase the economic analysis of the glycerol dehydration process were based on the reaction conversion and yield data currently available. However, these results relied heavily on assumptions concerning the identity and yield of unwanted byproducts due to unwanted side reactions. Therefore, due to the lack of complete reaction data for glycerol dehydration, a lab-scale mini-plant has been designed and built to study this reaction. This presentation focuses on the use of this mini-plant to identify the side products of the dehydration reaction and measurement of the parameters necessary to develop a kinetic model that describes the system of reactions. In addition, the results of updating the previously developed economics based on the laboratory results are shown.

The laboratory mini-plant includes a liquid feed system, feed vaporizer, a fixed bed catalytic reactor and analytical equipment to measure the concentrations of various components in the reactor effluent. Based on the experimental results achieved using this mini-plant, the proposed conceptual process simulation models are updated to reflect the measured data, resulting in more detailed and rigorous models. Comprehensive analysis of the processes are undertaken to identify the optimum separation sequences for purifying the acrolein product. This approach ensures that the processes developed for the separation and purification of the product are based on economically viable targets. These targets are further used to guide subsequent experimental runs.

In conclusion, this project holds potential for significant contributions to economic and environmental sustainability by the development of novel production processes which are based on cost effective, renewable raw materials. Future work on this research project will include identification of the kinetic parameters needed for the design of an industrial scale reactor. Finally, using the complete experimental results, the proposed conceptual processes will be optimized using process integration tools, such as pinch analysis. Additionally, environmental impact assessment tools, such as the WAR algorithm will continue to be applied to ensure that the most environmentally friendly process is selected from the economically viable process options.