A new copper compound developed by a research team at the University of Texas at Arlington can be employed to purify ethylene. The researchers have also filed a provisional patent application for the same.
Ethylene is widely used as raw material in the production of many industrial compounds and variety of plastics including PVC or polyethylene. Naturally, produced from crude oil, ethylene are obtained as mixture containing ethane. In manufacturing processes, ethylene is usually required in its pure form or 99.9% ethylene feed stock.
According to Rasika Dias, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UTA, current technologies for separating ethylene and ethane consume high amount of energy and also require heavy capital investment. The new technology that uses a copper compound, can selectively absorb ethylene in its solid state, by eliminating ethane and releasing minimum amount of energy, he said.
Absorption of ethylene by the new copper compound is an easily reversible process. Using mild temperature or pressure changes, the absorbed ethylene can be released and recovered, leading to regeneration of the starting copper complex that can be used again for multiple times.
The new technology to purify ethylene, reported in the international journal Angewandte Chemie, is energy-efficient as well as highly sustainable. Dias said that it could pose a major breakthrough for the separation of olefins from paraffins including ethylene and propylene. Currently, this separation process consumes of 0.3% of global energy, which roughly corresponds to annual energy consumption of Singapore.
In the study, researchers have described the solid-state structural rearrangement of copper complex when exposed to ethylene, resulting into release of exceptionally low level of heat during the absorption process. Fred MacDonnell, Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas appreciated Dias for the development of this novel technology.
According to MacDonnell, the research team have taken the challenge to improve one of the most reliable chemical separations and one required for multiple processes in industrial sectors and in manufacturing of products used in daily lives. By decreasing heat released to the atmosphere, the new technology can have better impact on the environment and vital implications for the costs associated with goods production, he added.