(114c) Production of Benzene, Toluene, and Xylenes from Natural Gas Via Methanol: A Comprehensive Process Synthesis and Global Optimization Approach

Authors: 
Floudas, C. A., Princeton University
Recently discovered sources of shale gas, along with the technological improvements within the shale gas industry, have greatly increased the supply of natural gas in the United States. However, several challenges have emerged due to these developments, a critical one being the proper utilization of this resource1 into more valuable and highly demanded products via routes that are both economical and profitable. Thus, we have developed a process synthesis framework capable of comparing several commercial and promising technologies for the production of aromatics from natural gas via methanol.

Between 2005 and 2008, the global demand for benzene, para-xylene, ortho-xylene, and meta-xylene was approximately 40, 26, 6, and 0.4 million metric tons per year, respectively.2 These aromatic commodities have several applications within industry. Benzene is used in styrene, phenol, nylon, and aniline production. Ortho-xylene is used for the production of phthalic anhydride, while meta-xylene is converted into isophthalic acid. Para-xylene, the most valuable xylene isomer, is converted into terephthalic acid and dimethyl terephthalate, which are ultimately used to produce polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fibers, resins and films. Thus, opportunities exist for widespread penetration of natural-gas based chemical refineries, albeit with challenges associated with which types of chemicals to produce and which technologies to invest in.

In this work, we propose a process synthesis superstructure that contains several direct and indirect commercialized natural gas conversion technologies, including autothermal reforming and steam reforming, among others.3,4 To address the economic barriers often associated with the utilization of alternative feedstocks, we develop a novel branch-and-bound global optimization framework that is capable of determining the optimal technologies to produce aromatics from natural gas at the highest profit.3-6Several novel, commercial, and/or competing technologies are modeled within the framework, including methanol-to-aromatics, toluene alkylation with methanol, selective toluene disproportionation, toluene disproportionation and transalkylation with heavy aromatics, para-xylene separation via adsorptive separation or crystallization, isomerization of xylenes, and dehydrocyclodimerization of liquefied petroleum gas, among others.6 This approach provides an adequate baseline for comparing competing technologies and identifying bottlenecks for natural gas conversion based technologies. Several case studies are presented that explore the effect of refinery capacity and product output. The key topological decisions will be discussed.

1. Mokrani T., Scurrel M. Gas conversion to liquid fuels and chemicals: the methanol route-catalysis and processes development. Catalysis Reviews 2009, 51:1-145

2. de Klerk, A. Fischer-Tropsch Refining; Wiley-VCH Verlag & Co. KgaA: Weinheim 2011

3. Niziolek, A. M.; Onel, O.; Elia, J. A.; Baliban R. C.; Floudas, C. A. Coproduction of Liquid Transportation Fuels and C6_C8 Aromatics from Biomass and Natural Gas. AIChE Journal 2015, 61, 831-856.

4. Baliban, R. C.; Elia, J. A.; Floudas, C. A. Novel natural gas to liquids (GTL) technologies: Process synthesis and global optimization strategies. AIChE Journal 2013, 59, 505–531.

5. Baliban, R. C.; Elia, J. A.; Misener, R.; Floudas, C. A. Global Optimization of a MINLP Process Synthesis Model for Thermochemical Based Conversion of Hybrid Coal, Biomass, and Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels. Computers and Chemical Engineering 2012, 42, 64-86.

6. Niziolek, A. M.; Onel, O.; Floudas, C. A. Production of Benzene, Toluene, and Xylenes from Natural Gas via Methanol: Process Synthesis and Global Optimization. submitted