Novel Honeywell technology reduces emissions from light olefins production

Article by Amanda Jasi

HONEYWELL is promising to reduce emissions intensity from olefin production by up to 50% with its novel naphtha to ethane and propane technology. By introducing an intermediate step to ethylene and propylene production, the process also improves production efficiency compared to mixed-feed crackers, while reducing capital costs.

The Chemical Engineer spoke to Bryan Glover, chief growth officer and CTO of Honeywell Energy and Sustainability Solutions, to learn more about the development.

Creating optimal feedstocks

Used to make chemicals, plastics, and fibres, ethylene and propylene are produced via steam cracking of petroleum feedstocks, with propylene a byproduct of ethylene production.

Naphtha is commonly used as cracking feedstock because of its availability, transportability and success in integrating stream crackers with refineries, said Glover. But the process generally only offers light olefin yields in the 50% range.

According to Glover, ethylene is generated most efficiently from ethane cracking, which is already primarily employed in the US and Middle East, yielding around 80% ethylene. Meanwhile, targeted propylene production via propane dehydrogenation achieves yields of around 90%.

Honeywell’s novel NEP process allows naphtha feedstock, or liquid petroleum gas feedstock, to achieve higher yields by feeding into the most suitable processes for ethylene and propylene production.

Glover explained that the technology is a “refining type” fixed-bed process that operates at a moderate temperature and requires hydrogen and a specialised catalyst. “Cracking to ethane historically can be a little bit challenging, but this unique catalyst allows you to get both ethane and propane,” he said. The ethane can then be fed into an ethane steam cracker, while propane is directed to a dehydrogenation unit.

The process is tuneable and can generate higher levels of ethane or propane depending on the unit design and process conditions.

Neither Glover nor Honeywell would disclose further detail about the process or tuning, however.

Improved efficiency and lower emissions

“We’re adding a new process technology in, so that creates some emissions of its own, but those are more than offset by the reduction of emissions upstream and downstream,” said Glover. He added that “most of the emissions savings are achieved through more efficient processing”.

Using NEP generates more ethylene and propylene while reducing the production of byproducts compared to a traditional mixed-feed steam cracking unit directly processing the same quantity and composition of feedstock.

This helps reduce emissions intensity by up to 50%, including scope 3 emissions, as NEP can help avoid the production of fuel and other high emissions-producing byproducts that steam cracking would typically result in. “Fossil petrochemicals, when handled appropriately, don’t generate the scope 3 impact that fuels do,” said Glover.

The intensity of scope 1 and 2 emissions can be reduced by as much as 30%, he said.

He noted that in the longer term, the process could be made more sustainable by using bio-sourced feedstocks, such as bio-derived naphtha, to produce ethylene and propylene.

Supporting the energy transition

By reducing emissions, the technology aligns with energy transition, one of three megatrends Honeywell is focused on.

Glover noted NEP supports energy transition by de-linking production of petrochemicals from the production of fuels. “It allows for petrochemical production growth without needing to have fuels production growth to go along with it.”

Additionally, Glover said the petrochemicals produced will also support sustainability through applications such as light-weighting vehicles, insulation that will improve energy efficiency, and advanced food packaging that will reduce the CO2 impact of supply chains.

“They’ll have a lot of secondary impact from the materials that they make, because petrochemicals – when used responsibly and when the waste is properly managed – have a lot to offer in terms of the sustainability goals that we all have,” he said.

Correction: This article was updated on 11 June to correct Bryan Glover’s position at Honeywell from “chief growth officer for Performance Materials & Technologies” to “chief growth officer and CTO of Honeywell Energy and Sustainability Solutions”.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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