Reactive Distillation Process Development in the Chemical Process Industries

H.G. Schoenmakers and B. Bessling 2.1


Reactive distillation (RD) is a key opportunity for improving the structure of a process [1, 2]. The combination of distillation and reaction is possible, of course, only if the conditions of both operations can be combined. This means that the reactions have to show data for reasonable conversions at pressure and temperature levels that are compatible with distillation conditions. The type of catalysis is also important. Homogeneous catalysis is possible in most cases but needs a separation step to recycle the catalyst. This can be avoided in heterogeneous catalysis, but here special constructions are necessary to fix the catalyst in the reaction zone. If everything harmonizes, considerable advantages arise: for the production of methyl acetate via RD , for example, only one column is needed instead of nine and a reactor (Fig. 2.1).

Is this an exception or does it represent a type of process with a considerable potential for improvement? The question is:

- how processes can be identified that exhibit potential for RD,

- how such a process can be developed, and

- how the equipment can be designed.

Some answers to this question will be offered from the viewpoint of an industrial user. The first question refers to the phase of the process synthesis, the second to process development by simulation and experimental validation, and the third to the choice and design of suitable equipment.

The results presented here are not only internal research results but also from joint research in Europe.

In view of the fact that, unlike conventional distillation, there was no integrated development strategy for progressing from the idea to a working process for RD, several European companies and universities joined forces in 1996 to work on a development strategy for RD processes under the umbrella of a Brite-Euram pro-

Production of methyl acetate at Eastman Kodak: without/with reactive distillation

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