- Collaboration leads to discovery of a new material able to separate ethylene from ethane
- Targeting up to a 25 percent reduction in both process energy needs and carbon dioxide emissions
- Research published in nation’s leading peer-reviewed journal Science
IRVING, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Scientists from ExxonMobil
and the Instituto de Tecnologia Quimica (ITQ) in Valencia, Spain have
discovered a potentially revolutionary new material that could
significantly reduce the amount of energy and emissions associated with
the production of ethylene. Depending on the application, use of the new
material, in conjunction with other novel separation processes, could
result in up to a 25 percent reduction in both the energy needed for
ethylene separation, as well as the associated carbon dioxide emissions.
Results of the research have been published
in the peer-reviewed journal Science
ExxonMobil and ITQ researchers found that the new material, composed of
a uniquely structured silica zeolite, can be used in gas separation
processes, such as the recovery of ethylene from ethane, with an
unprecedented degree of selectivity at ambient temperature. The new
material could provide insights into the design of additional materials
to be used as adsorbents or membranes in a variety of different gas
separation applications associated with chemical manufacturing. Zeolites
are porous materials frequently used as adsorbents and catalysts in
“Cryogenic distillation, the current commercial-scale process used for
ethylene separation, is an energy-intensive process,” said Vijay Swarup,
vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and
Engineering Company. “If advanced to commercial scale, use of this new
material could significantly reduce the amount of energy and emissions
associated with ethylene production. This is another great example of
collaboration between industry and a university that is focused on
driving solutions for improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon
emissions from industrial processes.”
Ethylene is a critical component in producing chemicals and plastics.
Finding alternative, low-energy technologies to separate ethylene from
ethane has been a longstanding challenge due to their similar
properties. While chemical manufacturers have evaluated a number of
alternatives to cryogenic distillation, including new adsorbents and
separation processes, many of these technologies are hindered by low
selectivity and an inability to regenerate when exposed to contaminants.
The patented new material, ITQ-55, is able to selectively adsorb
ethylene over ethane as a result of its unique flexible pore structure.
Built from heart-shaped cages interconnected by flexible elongated pore
openings, the material allows the diffusion of the flatter ethylene
molecules as opposed to the more cylindrical-shaped ethane molecules.
The new material acts as a flexible molecular sieve.
“ITQ-55 is a very interesting material whose unique combination of pore
dimension, topology, flexibility and chemical composition results in a
highly stable and inert material that is able to adsorb ethylene and
filter out ethane,” said Professor Avelino Corma of the Instituto de
Tecnologia Quimica and co-author of the research. “We are excited about
this discovery and look forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration
Additional research must be conducted before the material can be
considered for larger-scale demonstration and commercialization.
Fundamental research will continue focusing on incorporating the
material into a membrane and developing additional novel materials for
“Our ultimate goal of actually replacing cryogenic distillation is a
long-term challenge that will require many more years of research and
testing, in and out of the lab,” said Gary Casty, section head for
catalysis at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Our next
steps will focus on better understanding the full potential of this new
Chemical plants account for about eight percent of global energy demand
and about 15 percent of the projected growth in demand to 2040. As
global populations and living standards continue to rise, demand for
auto parts, housing materials, electronics and other products made from
plastics and other petrochemicals will continue to grow. Improving
industrial efficiency is part of ExxonMobil’s mission to meet the
world’s growing need for energy while minimizing environmental impacts.
ExxonMobil works with about 80 universities around the world to explore
next-generation energy technologies. In 2016, ExxonMobil and the Georgia
Institute of Technology announced the development of a
potential new material focusing on liquids separation that could also
reduce the amount of energy and emissions associated with manufacturing
plastics. The results of this joint research were published by Science,
ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil and gas
company, uses technology and innovation to help meet the world’s growing
energy needs. ExxonMobil holds an industry-leading inventory of
resources, is one of the largest refiners and marketers of petroleum
products, and its chemical company is one of the largest in the world.
For more information, visit www.exxonmobil.com
or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/exxonmobil.
Cautionary Statement: Statements of future
events or conditions in this release are forward-looking statements.
Actual future results, including project plans and timing and the impact
and results of new technologies, including efficiency gains and emission
reductions, could vary depending on the outcome of further research and
testing; the development and competitiveness of alternative
technologies; the ability to scale pilot projects on a cost-effective
basis; political and regulatory developments; and other factors
discussed in this release and under the heading “Factors Affecting
Future Results” on the Investors page of ExxonMobil’s website at
About the Instituto de Tecnologia Quimica
The Instituto de Tecnología Química (ITQ) is a joint research center
created in 1990 by the Universitat Politècnica de València and the
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. The ITQ is an
international reference center in the area of catalysis and new
materials (especially zeolites) and also in photochemistry. Due to its
excellent fundamental and oriented research level and to its
multidisciplinary character, the ITQ has the possibility to develop
research in different disciplines having an extraordinary flexibility
and capability to adapt itself to new research challenges.
Media Relations, 972-940-6007