Record high prices of oil and naphtha- used as a key feedstock for steam crackers in the petrochemical industry are inducing the industry to re-evaluate alternative approaches to acquiring inputs supply.
One long-known process is the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for the industrial-scale conversion of synthesis gas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen) into hydrocarbons. Experts from BASF's Catalysis Research in Ludwigshafen have now developed a new catalyst for this process that allows the dedicated production of olefins for the company's production Verbund. "The use of synthesis gas will offer us the possibility of broadening our raw material base in future," emphasizes Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer, Member of BASF's Board of Executive Directors and Research Executive Director. "This is because synthesis gas can be obtained both from the fossil raw materials oil, gas and coal and from renewable resources." This flexibility in terms of the raw material used but also the products synthesized makes the successful further development of the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis an interesting alternative to cracker technology. The economic potential for implementing the process in an industrial-scale plant naturally depends on the raw material costs. At today's prices for naphtha, the cost effectiveness of this process is established.
"The development of the new heterogeneous catalyst is so far advanced that we can now begin customizing the corresponding process," explains Professor Dr. Rainer Diercks, Head of BASF's Competence Center Chemicals Research and Engineering and spokesman of the Growth Cluster Raw Material Change. With the aid of miniplant technology, the experts will establish the optimal reaction conditions and how the catalyst behaves under production conditions. Development activities have so far focused on how to significantly increase selectivity for the production of olefins with two to four carbon atoms. "Our researchers have already achieved considerable successes in only two years after the project launch in mid 2006," reports Professor Diercks. "This demonstrates the great expertise of our employees and BASF's outstanding position in catalyst research."
For the period 2006 to 2008, BASF has allocated altogether about €100 million for research activities in the Growth Cluster Raw Material Change. The scientists are addressing the entire range of options available for supplementing the crude oil product naphtha with other raw materials for the various value chains. BASF sees these options not only in the increased use of renewable resources but especially of natural gas and, over the longer term, also of coal. Process innovations allowing the utilization of the alternative carbon sources will be vital for the stepwise implementation of raw material change.