Processes for Light Alkane Cracking to Olefins
The present work is focused on the synthesis of small-scale (modular processes) to produce olefins from light alkane resources in shale gas.
Olefins, which are widely used to produce important chemicals and everyday consumer products, can be produced from light alkanes - ethane, propane, butanes etc. Shale gas is comprised of light alkanes in significant proportion; and is available in abundance. Meanwhile, shale gas wells are small sized in nature and are distributed over many different areas or regions. In this regard, using shale gas as raw material for olefin production would require expensive transportation infrastructure to move the gas from the wells or local gas gathering stations to large central processing facilities. This is because existing technologies for natural gas conversions are particularly suited for large-scale processing. One possible way to take advantage of the abundance of shale resource for olefins production is to place small-sized or modular processing plants at the well sites or local gas gathering stations.
In this work, new process concepts are synthesized and studied towards developing simple technologies for on-site and modular processing of light alkane resources in shale gas for olefin production. Replacing steam with methane as diluent in conventional thermal cracking processes is proposed to eliminate front-end separation of methane from the shale gas processing scheme. Results from modeling studies showed that this is a promising approach. To eliminate the huge firebox volume associated with thermal cracking furnaces and allow for a compact cracking reactor system, the use of electricity to supply heat to the cracking reactor is considered. Synthesis efforts led to the development of two electrically powered reactor configurations that have improved energy efficiency and reduced carbon footprints over and compare to conventional thermal cracking furnace configurations.
The ideas and results in the present work are radical in nature and could lead to a transformation in the utilization of light alkanes, natural gas and shale resources for the commercial production of fuels and chemicals.