(548j) Identifying and Addressing Potential Barriers Towards Commercialization of Novel, Thermocatalytic Non-Food Sugar to Acrylonitrile Process

Samad, J. E., Southern Research
Grieco, W., Southern Research
Goyal, A., Southern Research
Southern Research (SR) has developed a novel, thermo-catalytic biomass derived non-food sugar to acrylonitrile (ACN) process under a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy. Acrylonitrile (ACN), a precursor monomer of high quality, automotive grade carbon fiber, is currently being produced commercially via ammoxidation of propylene, a high volume commodity chemical subject to the volatility of the petrochemical market. Propylene accounts for approximately 70% of the total ACN production cost. As an alternative, the novel, SR developed process replaces propylene with renewable, more ubiquitous and low cost biomass derived feedstock which makes the process cost effective with significantly reduced environmental footprint. The project has successfully completed the Phase I laboratory scale tests and is currently undergoing pilot scale phase II operation. A techno-economic and life cycle assessment (TE/LCA) conducted based on phase l results reveals that the process is capable of producing acrylonitrile at $0.7-$0.8/lb with co-product credit and reduce GHG emission by ~ 37% in the process.

As SR is scaling up the process from lab to pilot scale, several potential barriers towards commercialization are being addressed. Some of these barriers include, impacts of commercial sugar impurities (inorganic and organic) on catalysis and final product (ACN), ACN purity, catalyst scale-up, cost-competitive separation of intermediate products to obtain desired purity levels, collection and monetization of co-products and potential site and scale of ACN plant. Commercial sugar hydrolyzates consisting of ~70 different inorganic and organic impurities have been tested. Separately, sugar feeds spiked with ~15 of these impurities (one at a time) were tested to understand the fate and subsequent impact of each impurity. Purity of final ACN product has been tested and compared against commercial ACN samples to obtain drop-in quality and to provide feedback on sugar impurity levels. Each catalyst has been synthesized in large batch and tested in the final industrial form. ASPEN Plus simulation for intermediate separation has been conducted using industrially relevant units (distillation, flash drums). Experimental data are being collected on these separations using lab scale distillation column. Collection, purity and monetization potential of several co-products are being examined. This poster will highlight some of these addressed barriers and the resulting outcomes.