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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Individual Technology)

Publication date:1Q 2011
Item#: B1016

In light of the MTBE phase-out in the US, the increased blending of low-RVP ethanol, and concerns surrounding the safety of acid-catalyzed alkylation processes, the production of isooctane via the dimerization and hydrogenation of isobutane has become an attractive option for a number of refiners to yield a high-octane, low-RVP gasoline blending component.

Two primary factors have made the installation of isooctane production units particularly attractive: (1) refiners can take advantage of stranded MTBE production facilities and available feedstocks to produce high-quality isooctane (and/or isooctene) with minimal capital investment, and (2) isooctane production avoids the use of highly toxic acid catalysts that are needed for refinery alkylation processes and pose a significant threat to the health and safety of plant workers.

Outside of the US, the use of MTBE remains prevalent, and countries in the EU and other areas have focused on efforts to improve the storage of the gasoline additive to prevent groundwater contamination rather then banning its use. Additionally, gasoline demand makes up a larger portion of the total fuel usage in the US than in Europe so the need for high-quality blending components is not as urgent.

A number of case studies and revamp projects have been completed regarding the conversion of existing MTBE facilities into isooctene/isooctane production units. Furthermore, recent developments in the area of isooctane production processes have largely focused on the use of various oxygenates as catalysts modifiers to improve dimerization selectivity. Specifically, butanol (TBA), secondary butyl alcohol, MTBE, ETBE, and carboxylic acids have been mentioned in both commercial process and in R&D work. Many of the isooctane production processes discussed also include recycle configurations to limit makeup oxygenate requirements. Additionally, in the isooctane production section new products and topics covered include:

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