Scientists develop new catalyst producing propene

Scientists develop new catalyst for producing propene

7:02 AM, 7th December 2016
Propene is a key component of plastics found in consumer goods such as electronics, clothing and food packaging.
Propene is a key component of plastics found in consumer goods such as electronics, clothing and food packaging. UW–Madison researchers have discovered a new type of catalyst to drive the chemical reaction used to create it.

MADISON, US: Propene is a key ingredient of plastics found in consumer goods such as electronics, clothing and food packaging, and the second most produced organic chemical in the world.

To meet demand, the chemical industries have been working for years to produce the compound through a chemical process called “oxidative dehydrogenation of propane” (ODHP). Oil refineries have produced the compound through the “steam cracking” procedure that converts oil-derived naptha into useful components.

Now, the University of Wisconsin–Madison scientists have found a new type of catalyst to drive the ODHP reaction.

The breakthrough is published in the journal Science.

A group led by chemistry and chemical engineering professor Ive Hermans has described the success with hexagonal boron nitride and boron nitride nanotube catalysts in the chemical reaction that converts propane to propene.

The new boron nitride reagents produce a greater proportion of propene during the reaction than traditional oxide catalysts. Whereas the traditional catalysts sparked reactions that formed carbon dioxide and other unwanted byproducts in addition to propene, the new catalysts instead produce ethene — another industrially useful compound — as a byproduct.

“Boron nitride catalysts are nontoxic, they don’t contain precious metals, and they reduce the temperature of the reaction, resulting in energy savings,” said Joseph Grant UW–Madison graduate student and first author of the new study.

Moreover, the boron nitride reagents may be used continuously without an intermediate regeneration step required in alternative dehydrogenation processes.

“The new family of catalysts opens up a surprising and less resource-intensive approach to convert propane to propene. Sooner or later, the chemical industry could begin building production plants using this technology. Yet, because of the huge capital investments needed to build such facilities, scaling this process up to work in an industrial setting could still take years,” added Hermans.

This work was supported in part by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Accelerator Program.

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