Steam cracking is a well-established commercial technology for ethylene production. Despite decades of optimization efforts, the process is, nevertheless, highly energy and carbon intensive. This review covers the recent advances in alternative approaches that hold promise in the intensification of ethylene production from hydrocarbon feedstocks ranging from methane to naphtha. Oxidative as well as nonoxidative approaches using conventional, chemical looping, membrane, electrochemical, and plasma-assisted systems are discussed. We note that catalysts, electrocatalysts, and/or redox catalysts play critical roles in the performance of these alternative ethylene production technologies. Meanwhile, the complexity in producing polymer-grade ethylene also requires comprehensive considerations of not only (catalytic) reactions for ethylene formation but also feedstock preparation (e.g., air separation for oxidative conversion) and product separations. Although these alternative technologies have yet to be commercially implemented, a number of oxidative approaches have shown promise for close to order-of-magnitude reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emissions in comparison to steam cracking. Given the substantial progress in these research areas and the significant increase in C1 and C2 supplies resulting from the US shale gas revolution, we are excited by the enormous opportunities and potential impacts in the advancement and eventual implementation of significantly intensified ethylene production technologies.
- chemical looping
- electrochemical ethylene production
- ethylene, process intensification, oxidative coupling of methane
- oxidative dehydrogenation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Chemistry