The history of ETBE is intimately linked with MTBE. It has only ever been promoted as an alternative to MTBE and, because of the inherent similarities between the two agents, it is natural to consider MTBE production methods for ETBE. Indeed, a superficial examination of the problem would suggest that simply processing ethanol (instead of methanol) through the same equipment would be sufficient to produce ETBE, albeit with a yield penalty due to the less favourable reaction equilibrium. However, important differences in the VLE require a more considered approach, especially for reactive distillation, to maximise the potential of ETBE.
There are essentially two main processes for MTBE production, although there are numerous competing technologies with subtle differences. A typical process that employs only conventional technology utilises two catalytic reactors in series followed by a purification column and recovery equipment to recycle unreacted methanol. The reactive distillation process retains most of the items from the conventional process but combines the second reactor with the purification column. In each case, some pre treatment is required to protect the catalyst.
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