The introduction of lead-free gasoline brought about a new technical process on a large scale: reactive distillation (RD). Although the principle of this process had been known for many years , the need to produce huge quantities of ethers as antiknock enhancers caused rapid development of this technique: more than 14 X 106 tonnes/year of ethers are produced. The catalysts for the production of methyl-t-butylether (MTBE), t-amylmethylether (TAME), or ethyl-t-butylether (ETBE), which are the main products for the fuel market, are acidic ion-exchange resins. The most important type is based on cross-linked polystyrene that is sulfo-nated to create the active acid sites. These resins are produced as beads of less than 3 mm in a suspension polymerization process.
In an RD process, two operations are coupled and run simultaneously. One operation is chemical synthesis and the other is separation by distillation, enabling a shift in composition to drive equilibrium-limited reactions to higher conversion. In this chapter we summarize some of our published papers and extend the work to other applications of polymer carrier composite materials and components.
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