Heraeus Precious Metals: Joint research project for the sustainable production of ethene

Hanau, 18th October 2022

  • As part of the SynGas2Ethene project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Heraeus Precious Metals is working with project partners to develop a technology pathway for the sustainable production of ethene.
  • The new process is expected to save up to 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in ethene production.

Under the leadership of Ruhr University Bochum, Heraeus Precious Metals is conducting research together with the energy supplier RWE and Rubokat GmbH on the implementation of sustainable chemical value chains for the production of ethene. The SynGas2Ethene project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, has a duration of three years. A total of approximately 1.6 million euros will be invested in climate-friendly production of ethene.

Ethene is the most widely produced basic chemical and thus an essential building block of the chemical industry. Among other things, it is the starting material for the plastic polyethylene, which is used in films and packaging. Up to now, ethene has been produced almost exclusively from petroleum and other fossil raw materials, combined with high CO2 emissions: for every ton of ethene produced, about 1.12 tons of CO2 are produced.

The SynGas2Ethene research project, in which Heraeus Precious Metals is involved, aims to achieve sustainable production of ethene on an industrial scale, thereby significantly reducing CO2 emissions. To this end, ethene will no longer be produced from petroleum, but directly from synthesis gas. Synthesis gas is a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and varying amounts of other gases. Only industrial residues or biogenic raw materials such as biomass are used for the production of synthesis gas. If process energy from renewable energies is also provided at a later stage, a carbon-neutral technology path can be realized.

The SynGas2Ethene research project aims to sustainably produce ethene from synthesis gas on an industrial scale
The SynGas2Ethene research project aims to sustainably produce ethene from synthesis gas on an industrial scale.

The project partners work hand in hand

As part of the SynGas2Ethene research project led by Ruhr University Bochum (RUB), the partners have agreed to further develop catalyst concepts and find an efficient process window for the production process. An accompanying process simulation forms the basis for a comprehensive analysis of the ecological impact of the process and for calculating the techno-economic advantages of the new technology path.

Catalyst selection, preparation and optimization are carried out both at the RUB and at the Heraeus Precious Metals site in Hanau/Germany. Prof. Thomas Ernst Müller, holder of the Chair of Carbon Sources and Conversion (CSC) at RUB, explains: "We have already been able to show that it is possible to convert synthesis gas with a ruthenium catalyst. Now the task is to use the knowledge gained to convert the synthesis into an economical process." Preliminary testing and screening of the catalysts continue to take place at RUB. Process development is also being handled by the CSC chair.

Heraeus Precious Metals accompanies the catalyst selection and provides small quantities of catalysts produced close to industry. Due to its properties, ruthenium is ideally suited as a precious metal for the catalyst. The further specifications of the catalyst will be defined in the next steps. Once the suitable catalyst has been identified, Heraeus will scale-up and shape the catalyst for use in continuously operated reactions.

The catalyst characterization is the responsibility of Rubokat, a spin-off of the Chair of Technical Chemistry at the Ruhr University in Bochum.

The pilot tests will be carried out by RWE Power AG at its pilot plant in the Niederaussem Innovation Center. RWE will perform initial economic feasibility assessments based on the RUB process simulations.

The innovative process has enormous potential: 150 million tons of ethene are produced annually. According to estimates by the project partners, the climate-friendly production of ethene can save up to 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in ethene production. "We are proud to contribute our expertise and extensive know-how in the field of heterogeneous precious metal catalysts to the research project. Together with the project partners, we will make a decisive contribution to reducing CO2 emissions in the chemical industry as part of this basic research," emphasizes Dr. Hendrik Spod, Head of Innovation Chemicals at Heraeus Precious Metals.

After completion of the three-year project phase, the joint research results will be published. Subsequently, follow-up projects will focus on the expansion to industrial scale.

Previous production of ethene
Previous production of ethene.