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Polypropylene Production via Gas-Phase Process

By Intratec Solutions

olypropylene (PP) is one of the worlds most widely used polymers, second only to polyethylene in terms of global demand. The global market for polypropylene is over 60 million metric tons per year, and it is utilized in a broad and diverse range of end-uses from injection-molding applications to films and sheets, as well as synthetic raffia and other fibers, among others. Traditionally, the most representative types of propylene polymerization are the following: hydrocarbon slurry or suspension, bulk (or bulk slurry), gas phase and hybrid (uses bulk- and gas-phase polymerization reactors). The Unipol PP process, a leading gas-phase process technology, was recently offered for sale by Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Mich.; www. dow.com). The company is looking to focus on high-margin areas, and is seeking buyers for its polypropylene licensing and catalyst business. The process PP is a thermoplastic material formed by the polymerization of propylene, resulting in a macromolecule that contains from 10,000 to 20,000 monomer units. The production of a polypropylene homopolymer via a gas-phase process similar to Dow Unipol is depicted in the diagram (Figure 1). The process shown is capable of producting homopolymer and random copolymer PP. For impact copolymer production, a secondary reaction loop is required. In this process, gaseous propylene contacts a solid catalyst in a fluidized-bed reactor. The process can be separated into three different areas: purification and reaction; resin degassing and pelletizing; and vent recovery. Purification and reaction. Fresh polymer grade (PG) propylene is sent to fixed-bed dryers to remove water and other polar impurities. The purified propylene, a recycle stream from the vent recovery system and comonomers (in case of copolymer production) are then fed continuously to the reactor. A gas compressor circulates reaction gas upward through the reactor, providing the agitation required for fluidization, backmixing and heat removal. No mechanical stirrers or agitators are required in the process reactor. The overhead gas from the reactor passes through a cooler for reaction heat removal. Catalyst is continuously fed to the reactor. Resin degassing and pelletizing. Resulting granular polypropylene is removed from the reactor by the discharge tanks and sent to a purge bin where residual hydrocarbons are stripped with nitrogen from the resin and are sent to the vent recovery system. The resin from purge bin is combined with additives and then flows to the pelletizing unit. The pellets are dried, cooled and sent to product blending and storage. Vent recovery. The vent gas is processed to separate hydrocarbons and nitrogen purge gas, which is returned to the process. The condensed components are separated into a propylene stream, which is returned to the reaction system, and a propane stream. Economic performance An economic evaluation of the process was conducted for two distinct integration scenarios:

Total fixed investment costs


Direct expenses Indirect expenses Project contingency

350,000 300,000 $, thousands 250,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000 0

Non-integrated scenario

Integrated scenario

Figure 2. Elevated propylene prices make it unprofitable to operate a standalone PP unit

 The integrated scenario is based on the construction of a plant linked to a propylene supplier. In this case, storage for propylene is not required. However, the estimated investment for the integrated scenario includes storage for PP equivalent to 20 days of plant operation  The non-integrated scenario is based on the construction of a grassroots PP processing unit. Thus, a time period of 20 days of operation was considered for storage of both products and raw materials The economic evaluation was based on data from the third quarter of 2011 and a plant nominal capacity of 400,000 ton/yr erected on the U.S. Gulf Coast (only the process equipment is represented in the simplified flowsheet). The level of integration with nearby facilities significantly impacts the total fixed investment required for the construction of a PP plant, as represented in the graph (Figure 2). More than that, the elevated market prices for propylene in the U.S. make it unprofitable to operate a stand-alone PP unit. However, PP units that are integrated upstream with a propylene production plant may purchase propylene at prices below the market average, reaching EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) margins of above 20%.  Edited by Scott Jenkins Editors Note: The content for this column is supplied by Intratec Solutions LLC (Houston; www.intratec.us) and edited by Chemical Engineering. The analyses and models presented herein are prepared on the basis of publicly available and non-confidential information. The information and analysis are the opinions of Intratec and do not represent the point of view of any third parties. More information about the methodology for preparing this type of analysis can be found, along with terms of use, at www.intratec.us/che.
CW 1. Fixed-bed dryer 2. Polymerization reactor 3. Gas compression and cooling 9 4. Discharge and blowdown tanks 5. Purge bin 6. Horizontal ribbon blender 7. Extruder and pelletizer 8. Centrifugal dryer 9. P-P splitter CW Cooling water Polypropylene pellets ST Steam

3 CW

Additives 1 PG propylene Catalyst and additives 4 8 2 6

ST Propane purge

Figure 1. Homopolymer PP production process similar to Dow Unipol