Développement de réacteurs microstructurés pour la conversion du propane en produits valorisés

Industry requires continuously new chemical processes to convert raw materials to valuable products limiting the formation of by-products. Since a few years, an increasing interest has been given to the intensification of chemical processes. This represents a new approach in chemical reaction engineering and calls for a new type of chemical reactors: the microstructured reactors. They are characterized by miniature structures whose components have a sub-millimeter size. The flow channels, for example, have a diameter from ten to several hundred microns. The distinctive feature of these structures is a very large surface/volume ratio, namely between 10'000 and 50'000 m2/m3. In these conditions, heat transfer coefficient is very high, up to 25 kW · m-2 · K-1. It is accepted that the residence time distribution in a reactor strongly influences the product selectivity and yield. In these thin channels, the RTD is particularly narrow due to a short radial diffusion time (ms), allowing a precise control of the residence time. Another advantage of these microstructures is an increase of the inherent safety due to a small amount of the compounds used. However, fabrication of microreactors, especially the introduction of active catalyst in microchannels remains a difficult operation. And integration of microsystems in conventional chemical processes is still a challenge. The aim of this work is first to develop a novel membrane reactor based on a new microstructured catalytic packing in the filamentous form and to apply it to the nonoxydative dehydrogenation of propane. A second objective is to develop a reactor with micro heat exchangers allowing an optimized control of homogeneous reactions. This reactor was tested with the partial oxidation of propene to propylene oxide. The microstructured catalyst above is made of thin and long catalytic filaments placed in parallel with a tubular reactor. This new kind of catalyst is based on silica fibres covered by a γ-alumina layer. The position in parallel of these filaments of 7 μm diameter forces the gases to flow in the fibres direction between the filaments. The hydraulic diameter is about 70 μm. Due to this laminar and regular flow, the pressure drop in the bed was divided by 5 compared to a conventional bed (100-160 μm spheres) and the residence time distribution was particularly narrower. Such novel packing brings new opportunities to the heterogeneous catalysis domain because it can be used for many other reactions improving highly the hydrodynamics and keeping an excellent contact with the reactants. The microstructured catalyst was installed in two concentric zones of a tubular reactor separated by a palladium-silver membrane permeable to hydrogen. This product was removed from the gas phase to shift the thermodynamic equilibrium, enhancing the propane conversion from 22% up to 30%. Another significant advantage in this reactor is the increase of propene selectivity up to 97% in comparison to conventional industrial processes reaching 80-90%. This difference is due to the diminution of hydrogenolysis and hydroisomerization reactions. The dehydrogenation is known to be endothermic. Oxidation of the hydrogen passing through the membrane produced heat for this reaction along the catalytic zone. Moreover, a periodic regeneration by air allowed recovering the activity of the catalyst deactivated by coke formed during dehydrogenation. Periodic reaction operations allowed producing continuously propene with a high selectivity, and regenerating simultaneously the catalyst. The second microstructured reactor was developed integrating two micro heat exchangers at the inlet and outlet of a macroscopic tube. The aim is to heat up very fast the gas and to cool it down as well. Without these exchangers, heating and cooling duration corresponded each to about 20% of the total residence time. The use of the microstructures allowed diminishing significantly these durations (4-5% each). Applied to partial oxidation of propene, this reactor reached a more precise control of reaction temperature and duration. The propylene oxide (PO) selectivity was not increased with this system but, due to the microstructures, it was possible to work at higher temperatures where the reaction becomes very fast, without reaching an oxygen conversion of 100%. Indeed, it is essential to avoid this situation where oligomers and coke form dividing by 2 the PO selectivity. So another new kind of reactor was developed suitable for any fast exothermic reaction whose progression has to be limited because of potential consecutive reactions reducing, for example, the selectivity of an intermediate desired compound.

Renken, Albert
Lausanne, EPFL

 Record created 2005-03-16, last modified 2018-01-27

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