Clariant announces breakthrough in PP catalyst technology that boosts output - execs

Author: Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)--Clariant said it has made a breakthrough in polypropylene (PP) catalyst technology with a phthalate-free catalyst that can also provide superior properties and improve plant output, executives said on Tuesday.

“Results met and exceeded expectations with superior impact resistance and stiffness,” said Marvin Estenfelder, head of R&D for Clariant Catalysts, at a virtual media roundtable event.

“Somewhat of a surprise is that we found plant productivity also significantly improved with over $8m/year in additional production benefit. An initial focus on safety and health turned into a new business opportunity,” he added.

Developed in partnership with McDermott’s Lummus Novolen Technology, Clariant is launching its new PolyMax 600 Series of phthalate-free catalysts.

Consumers and brand owners are demanding phthalate-free plastics for food packaging and medical products as phthalates along with bisphenol-A (BPA), melamine and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are viewed as harmful substances of concern, said Estenfelder.

And unlike other catalysts, PP catalysts are actually consumed in the production process, so chemicals in the catalyst remain in the polymer in small amounts, he added.

The challenge was to produce a phthalate-free PP catalyst without diminishing key physical properties such as durability and stiffness.

And the improved PP plant output performance using the catalyst opens it up to the entire PP market - not just for polymers focused on consumer applications but for all applications, including automotive, said Stefan Heuser, head of Clariant Catalysts.

“We discovered these properties, so it’s not just for the consumer market but opens up a completely new market. This innovation was triggered by the consumer industry, and has led us to a very successful path,” said Heuser.

The catalyst is a drop-in solution, requiring no re-tooling of PP plants. And the over $8m in potential annual benefit is for a typical PP plant with 300,000-350,000 tonnes/year of capacity, he added.

“While there are other phthalate-free PP catalysts, we benchmarked ours versus others and discovered the additional benefits. The workability and performance are superior,” said Heuser.

Clariant’s development of the phthalate-free PP catalyst is in line with its focus on a transition to a cleaner, safer and climate-neutral economy, said Estenfelder.

The company is also introducing new catalysts that help convert plastic waste to diesel fuel, produce hydrogen with a lower CO2 footprint, and produce syngas and chemicals such as ammonia and methanol from renewable power generation.

Clariant is working with Solvakia-based fertilizer and rubber chemicals company Duslo’s research institute VUCHT on converting plastic waste to premium winter diesel with its new HYDEX E hydro-dewaxing catalyst. The process has been proven in a pilot plant in Slovakia.

Duslo’s pyrolysis process, at over 300°C, converts plastic waste to pyrolysis oil. Then Clariant’s HYDEX E catalyst upgrades the oil distillate by removing long-chain paraffins while leaving cyclic molecules untouched, thus resulting in improved cold flow properties. The winter diesel is operable even below -34°C, said Estenfelder.

The next step would be scaling up to a demonstration plant of around 40 tonnes/year of fuel distillate, which could take two to three years, he added.

Clariant has also developed with TechnipFMC what it calls the EARTH solution for hydrogen production using steam methane reforming (SMR) with lower CO2 emissions. This involves the combination of a new technology with a new catalyst - a drop-in solution for revamps and new plants, said Estenfelder.

The production of hydrogen typically results in high CO2 emissions - around 8 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of hydrogen. This compares to ratios of 1.6 for propylene from naphtha, 0.9 for propylene from Catofin PDH, 2.5 for ammonia and 0.8 for methanol.

The EARTH process involves tube-in-tube compartments in a reformer tube that form an annular gap. The catalyst itself is distributed as a thin washcoat which can be heated both outside and inside the tube, thus increasing activity.

This has resulted in fuel savings of 38%, CO2 emission reduction of 20% and lower pressure drop of 40%, said Estenfelder.

Lastly, Clariant is working on a series of what it calls “Power-to-X” technologies that help convert greenhouse gases resulting from renewable power generation to ammonia, methanol, methane or other chemicals, thus reducing the CO2 footprint further, he noted.

“Green” hydrogen produced from solar or wind renewable energy via electrolysis of water is reacted through Clariant catalysts with CO2 or CO from industrial exhausts, or nitrogen form the air to produce the chemicals.

“This is the coupling of renewable power generation and the chemical industry through a variety of catalysts,” said Estenfelder.

The Power-to-X technologies are applicable to other industries that produce high amounts of CO2 such as steel.

Focus article by Joseph Chang