Siluria to build methane-to-C2 demo plant on Braskem US site

15 January 2014 19:44  [Source: ICIS news]

Siluria to build methane-to-C2 demo plant on Braskem US siteHOUSTON (ICIS)--Siluria Technologies has started building its first demonstration plant that will produce ethylene from methane through an oxidative coupling process − one that could be competitive with ethane and naphtha cracking, the company said on Wednesday.

A commercial-scale plant could achieve savings of $1bn/year in capital expense (capex) and operating expense (opex) over naphtha cracking and $250m over ethane cracking, the company said. A commercial-scale plant would produce 60m-150m lb/year (27,000-68,000 tonnes/year).

"Siluria can provide significant advantages" as long as 1 bbl of oil costs at least 8 times 1MMBtu of natural gas, it said.

The ratio currently exceeds 20.

Production at the $15m demo plant could start in the fourth quarter of 2014. That is the same target that Siluria gave almost a year ago, when it was searching for a site for the unit.

Siluria will install the demo plant at a complex in La Porte, Texas, which is owned and operated by Braskem. The site currently produces polypropylene (PP) through the company's US subsidiary, Braskem America.

The two companies have formed what they describe as a broad-ranging collaboration around Siluria's oxidative coupling process.

Braskem's support for the demo plant includes provision of the site, operational services and capital infrastructure, Siluria said. This should save Siluria $50m during the life of the agreement.

The two companies will also conduct a joint feasibility study to see if Siluria's technology can supply ethylene to Braskem's plants.

The process at the centre of the collaboration is oxidative coupling.

Oxidative coupling differs from methanol-to-olefins technology, which relies on synthesis gas (syngas) as an intermediate.

For decades, oxidative coupling of methane remained impractical because a high temperature is required before the desired reaction could take place.

To solve this problem, Siluria has employed a novel process – developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Angela Belcher – that uses viruses as a design tool to create a biological template for nanowire catalysts.

To quickly identify the best-performing catalyst, Siluria has developed a process of high-throughput screening. The combination of screening, nanowires and biological templates allowed Siluria to find and develop a catalyst that could make oxidative coupling a practical way to produce ethylene from methane.

The catalyst has lowered the reaction temperature, which eliminates the need for expensive metallurgy. Plus, the reaction is exothermic, providing a production site with additional energy.

The availability of the catalyst is not an issue, since Siluria is making hundreds of kilograms, the company said.

In an interview with ICIS in 2013, Siluria CEO Edward Dineen said that oxidative coupling is still viable in the US despite the nation's abundance of ethane as a cracking feedstock. The advent of shale gas has also made an abundance of methane available to producers.

Plus, an alternative to ethane could help ethylene producers avoid spikes in the feedstock. Typically, chemical producers are eager for feedstock flexibility.

Also, methane pricing is also more stable and can be hedged unlike ethane.

For regions with stranded methane, oxidative coupling could give producers one more tool for adding value to natural gas.

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By: Al Greenwood
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