By Scott Baker on Jan 13, 2020
Although my current role in Shell Catalysts & Technologies covers a wide range of industrial catalysts and processes as Global Intellectual Property Manager, my technical roots lie firmly in the world of ethylene oxide (EO) and ethylene glycol (EG).
With 35 years of experience, much of it in technical support of Shell’s ethylene oxide catalysts operated in customer EO/EG plants around the world, I’ve seen first-hand how Shell has been the global innovation leader in both catalyst and process technology. I am continually amazed at the ground-breaking discoveries in catalyst science and improvements in operating safety, energy efficiency, and process optimization that continue to be made by the scientists and engineers of Shell.
Over my career, the EO/EG industry has grown exponentially, and Shell has been a large part of that global growth. Nearly 40% of the world’s ethylene oxide is produced in Shell-licensed and designed plants, and approximately 50% of the world’s installed EO catalyst is supplied by Shell Catalysts & Technologies.
Shell’s affiliates are also among the world’s largest manufacturers of EO and EG. As the premier EO/EG technology company, with many years of leading expertise in process licensing, catalyst development, and plant operation, Shell remains committed to creating value for its EO/EG process licensees and catalyst customers.
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Improving the Performance of Existing EO/EG Plants through Catalyst Technology
Shell has been the EO catalyst innovation leader for more than 50 years, introducing five different catalyst families to the market place over that period of time.
Shell pioneered the modern EO era by introducing High Activity (HA) catalysts in the early 1970’s. The 1980’s saw the invention of the game-changing High Selectivity (HS) catalyst family, which is now the foundation for all modern EO catalysis. Shell later developed the successful Hybrid (HY) catalysts and the industry-leading High Performance (HP) families in the 2000’s.
Recently, the fifth and newest family, the High Tolerance (HT) catalysts, has been successfully deployed in industry. With this comprehensive suite of EO catalyst products, combined with their unsurpassed technical service, Shell Catalysts & Technologies is able to provide the right EO catalyst to meet any existing EO/EG plant’s unique set of operational and process constraints.
Shell can use its sophisticated EO catalyst performance prediction model in combination with a robust economic model to evaluate different scenarios for existing customers. Using these proprietary tools, Shell can help customers select the best catalyst product to optimize their plant yield, catalyst cycle life, productivity, CO2 footprint, overall cost, and/or profit depending on their operating targets and constraints.
We have seen customers upgrade their catalyst performance cycle after cycle, improving yields, life, and productivity with little or no change to their process, simply by using the right catalyst for their unique plant.
These tools can also be used to justify process upgrades or debottlenecking projects for existing EO plants. For example, the catalyst performance at a proposed set of operating conditions can be modeled, and the improvements over the status quo can be converted into an economic benefit used to justify the capital expenditures involved in that plant upgrade project.
In fact, Shell Catalysts & Technologies can work closely with the customer, so that the customer can choose the best set of new operating conditions with the best potential to maximize their return.
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Optimizing the EO/EG Process for New Designed Plants
Shell EO/EG process technology for new plants is optimized around the Shell EO catalyst to take advantage of the synergy of catalysts and processes working together.
Centered around the industry-leading catalysts provided today by Shell Catalysts & Technologies, Shell process engineers can position the operator to optimize the design of a new grass-roots plant by integrating the catalyst performance model with a capital expenditure (capex) model and an operational expenditure (opex) model.
It is a highly complex and iterative evaluation that incorporates specific operational parameters – such as feed gas composition, cycle gas flow rate, and reaction pressure – and measures their impact on catalyst performance, capex, and opex. The goal of the optimization is to minimize the overall manufacturing cost for EO, and hence maximize profitability for the customer.
Shell has been licensing EO/EG technology for over 60 years. (The first Shell EO/EG process license was in the late 1950’s.) The Shell MASTER (EO/EG) process, optimized around either HS or HP ethylene oxide catalyst (MASTERHS and MASTERHP) utilizes the well-proven thermal hydration route to make EG from EO.
More recently, Shell has introduced the OMEGA process (Only Mono-Ethylene Glycol- Advantage), which is based on catalytic hydration of EO to EG, using a proprietary EG catalyst. The OMEGA process lowers capex and opex and virtually eliminates heavier glycol products beyond the primary desired product, mono-ethylene glycol (MEG).
But I am most excited about the cutting-edge developments contained in the next generation MEG-only process, which significantly further reduces the plant capex/opex and is poised to be the next great Shell EO/EG innovation in a long history of innovation.
Despite the reputation of the EO/EG industry as a “mature” business, Shell continues to grow, improve, and reinvent both the catalyst and process technologies. Having lived through these amazing technical developments over the past 35 years, I am more excited than ever to see how Shell makes the future of EO/EG even brighter.
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