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Southern Research project receives funding

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Southern Research has announced that it has been awarded US$799 422 by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing a variety of chemicals used in manufacturing.

Southern Research is developing a nano-engineered catalyst-driven process for the production of light olefins, such as ethylene and propylene, using CO2, from coal-fired flue gas and lower alkanes derived from shale gas as feedstocks.

Bill Grieco, Vice President of Energy and Environment at Southern Research, said: “Ethylene and propylene are the highest volume petrochemicals in use today. Current production methods are capital- and energy-intensive as well as large greenhouse gas emitters.

“By combining CO2 with shale gas, which is readily available in the US, our new process promises to have meaningful economic and environmental impact.”

Southern Research’s facility in Durham, North Carolina, US, is also exploring new ways to make chemicals such as acrylonitrile and fuels from sources such as non-food renewable feedstock, and coal, waste emissions and natural gas, respectively.

Environmental benefits

Production techniques for ethylene typically use naphtha or ethane as raw materials, and require a large amount of energy to crack molecules apart.

Amit Goyal, Manager, Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis and Principal Investigator, said: “Ethylene alone accounts for 1% of the world’s energy consumption and 180 to 200 million t of CO2 emission […] Due to the large magnitude of ethylene production, any reduction on the energy requirement will be highly impactful.”

The approach would reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants.

Jadid Samad, Advanced Chemical Engineer and Co-Principal Investigator for Southern Research, said: “Coal is abundant and cheap, making it a vital energy source […] A smart solution to the issue of emissions from coal-fired power plants lies in the prospect of using CO2 as feedstock to produce valuable chemicals.”

Samad said Southern Research’s approach on the project directly supports the Carbon Use and Reuse research and development portfolio being assembled by the US Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy. The portfolio is developing and testing novel approaches that convert captured CO2 from coal-fired power plants into useable products.

Southern Co. is teaming with Southern Research on the project and will provide the research team with the composition of various flue gases generated in a utility plant. In addition, a petrochemical consultant will provide guidance on catalyst development, as well as scale-up and commercialisation aspects of the project.

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