(412d) A Techno-Economic Comparison of the Biobased p-Xylene Production

Lin, Z., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Nikolakis, V., University of Delaware
Ierapetritou, M., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

A techno-economic comparison of the biobased p-xylene production

Zhaojia Lin1, Vladimiros Nikolakis2, Marianthi Ierapetritou1

1 Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey

2. Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation & Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware

This work focuses on a techno-economic comparison of the biobased p-xylene production. Biomass is the only potential renewable alternative to petroleum of the production of high-value and low-volume chemicals [1]. The development of efficient and economically sustainable routes for biobased p-xylene production has raised a lot of interest since p-xylene is widely used as a raw material to produce polyester polyethylene terephthalate (PET) -- a polymer resin broadly used in the synthesis of fibers, films, and beverage containers [2]. In this work we focus on the techno-economic comparison of two alternative productions of biobased p-xylene based on the process patented by Gevo Inc. [3, 4] and the discoveries from CCEI (Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation) in this work [5-7].

Gevo’s invention involves the fermentation of biomass raw materials (starch) to iso-butanol and then isobutanol conversion to p-xylene through dehydration, oligermerization and dehydrocyclization [4, 8]. Another alternative process is based on CCEI discoveries is to form p-xylene via 5-hydroxymethyfurfural (HMF) and 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF). Particularly, a biobased p-xylene production process can be envisioned to use biomass (starch) as starting raw material that upon depolymerization and isomerization produces fructose to be dehydrated to HMF. HMF is then hydrodeoxygenated to DMF using hydrogen and DMF can react with ethylene to form p-xylene [5-7, 9].

Those two conversion paths have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of production and purification processes. In comparison to the maturity of petrochemical-based chemical production processes after the last few decades’ development, biobased chemical productions are still at early stage and the knowledge of reaction and purification process used in the production of biobased products is limited. Thus, techno-economic analysis is a useful tool to assess the feasibilities and to compare the economics of the alternatives of the production pathways. Sensitivity analysis is performed to address the impacts of uncertainties of economic parameters such as the plant capacity, the costs of raw materials and catalyst cost, and the most significant reaction factors of the technological development, i.e. conversion and selectivity of the involved reactions.

The production process is simulated in Aspen Plus® and the economics analysis is conducted in Aspen Economic Analyzer®. The main findings contain the minimum p-xylene selling prices of both GEVO and CCEI processes. The minimum selling prices of both processes are comparable though much higher than petroleum-based p-xylene from naphtha reforming. Biomass raw material starch is a big contribution for both processes. In Gevo’s process, fermentation-related cost such as enzyme and biocatalyst is another big fraction; whereas CCEI requires other raw materials such as ethylene and hydrogen which contribute a big fraction. Selectivity is always favored to improve economics.


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