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The production of petrochemical intermediates

IFPEN's research is aimed at developing new processes for the production of petrochemical intermediates and improving the performance of existing processes, while enhancing the purity of products, especially those destined for use in the manufacture of plastics.

In the field of olefin intermediates, obtained by steam cracking or catalytic cracking, research primarily focuses on the production of high-purity olefins via selective hydrogenation and purification.

In 2015, IFPEN finalized the development of a new nickel-based catalyst for the selective hydrogenation of the pyrolysis gasolines, marketed by Axens. Thanks to a new alumina substrate, this catalyst offers a considerable increase in activity of 22°C compared to the old generation, significantly reducing the unit’s energy consumption. Another major advantage: for the first time, it can be regenerated.

                                               Catalyst testing laboratory.

IFPEN is also pursuing its research aimed at converting ethylene into heavier olefins, such as 1-butene and 1-hexene, used in plastics, for example. The aim is to identify catalytic formulations making it possible to selectively obtain products, with a very high level of purity, as well as improving the efficiency of the process and its operability. With the aim of meeting a market need and extending the range of processes, major research is under way concerning the development of a production process for octene-1 from ethylene.

Lastly in 2015, IFPEN finalized the development of a high-capacity (twice that of currently available products) adsorbent for the purification of ethylene, generating efficiency gains of between 30 and 50% in conventional operating conditions. The industrial production of this adsorbent has already been launched by Axens on its Salindres site.

In the field of aromatics, IFPEN’s research is aimed at meeting the significant market demand for paraxylene, a widely used substance, particularly for packaging plastics (bottles) and textile fibers. In the context of a long-standing partnership with CECA, a subsidiary of Arkema, IFPEN is working on the formulation of new adsorbents for the Eluxyl® paraxylene separation process, marketed by Axens.

                                    Eluxyl® process pilot unit at IFPEN-Lyon.

CECA plans to double its production capacity for these adsorbents by the summer of 2016: an investment that will make it possible to produce the latest generation of molecular sieve and supply the ten-year replacement market for these adsorbents. This sieve has a higher capacity than the best sieve on the market and makes it possible to produce ultra-pure paraxylene.

Press release
 + Arkema announces doubling of production capacity for its specialty molecular sieves

See also
 + "Iron is best", by Hélène Olivier-Bourbigou

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Panorama 2016

"Innovation and climate change: role and position of the refining industry"
 > Download the Panorama 2016 technical reports

Key figure

Annual growth rate for the booming paraxylene market.