Zeolite mesoporization optimizes sustainable fuels & chemicals manufacturing and enables chemical plastic waste recycling
Press Release - Leuven, Belgium - December 14, 2023 - Apart from making oil refining and petrochemicals more performant and sustainable, Zeopore’s unique zeolite mesoporization technology also strongly contributes to the global energy transition and emerging circular economy. Kurt Du Mong, Zeopore CEO: "We have already achieved several proofpoints of our value in the chemical industry's macro shift towards renewable sources, ecofriendly energy production, CO2 capture and (plastic) waste recycling. Because this shift entails fundamental process changes, we increase the applicability of our mesoporized zeolites in a number of green catalysis processes, such as green methanol to olefins, sustainable fuels, biomass conversion to olefins and aromatics, and advanced plastic waste recycling. Partners or consortia are welcome to jointly embed our catalysis innovations in broader technology developments for realizing new green processes and supply chains."
As a result of macroeconomic, environmental and geopolitical evolutions, the oil demand is likely to peak in the next five to ten years. By providing enhanced zeolite-based catalysts, Zeopore allows existing petrochemical industries to operate more targeted, efficient and sustainable.
The world no longer exclusively relies on fossil fuels because of environmental considerations and the limited global crude oil supply. The future of the fossil fuel industry is likely to be shaped by a combination of factors driving further decarbonization. These factors include energy transition, electrification and climate policies.
As a catalysis innovator, we capture many opportunities in the macroshift from petrochemical to renewable sources, ecofriendly energy production, and (plastic) waste recycling. The gradual escape from fossil sources leads to the growing use of biomass and waste plastics sources. Our unique catalyst innovations enable Zeopore to positively contribute to this global trend in energy transition and circular economy.
Some of these new trends can be facilitated through existing technologies, whereas other trends require new technologies. Zeopore has already demonstrated its capability to enhance catalytic processes through incremental or radical improvements. Currently, we are also enhancing the applicability of our mesoporized zeolites in a number of green catalysis processes, as part of customer assignments or internal initiatives. Below we highlight our proof points in four key catalysis based applications.
For each application we apply a similar approach using our proprietary knowledge base: 1) lay bare the zeolite mesoporization landscape in order to define the optimum catalyst properties for the target application, 2) stepwise scale up the production volume of the most suitable mesoporous zeolite, 3) co-develop the optimal supply chain through adequate partnerships, and, 4) help deploy the process/catalyst offering to the market.
1. Sustainable fuels and lubricants
The commercial relevance of hydro-isomerisation processes is expected to significantly increase, based on the ongoing shift from fossil to sustainable feedstocks. Increasingly strict legislation imposed on the transport sector, gradually raises the use of sustainable fuels. The RED III targets in EU, for example, imply 29% renewables in the final energy consumption in this sector by 2030. Over time, the sustainable ingredients will gradually become more prominent in biofuels made from food-feed crops and agriculture-forestry biomass as well as fuels with a recycled-carbon or non-biological origin.
The emerging markets of renewable fuels and lubricants are growing extremely fast and are of high interest to the industry. In these markets, dewaxing is imperative since these renewable products typically have lower cold flow properties than those of fossil-based products. In cold climates, it can be a challenge to fuel vehicles with high blends of bio-diesel because bio-diesel tends to freeze at higher temperatures than conventional diesel does. The cloud point of soybean bio-diesel is about 1°C, whereas the cloud point for No. 1 diesel is about -40°C and for No. 2 diesel between -28°C and -7°C. Therefore, higher-performance dewaxing at an affordable cost is essential in light of delivering high-quality renewable fuels used in cold climates.
Typically, the benefits of zeolite mesoporisation increase as the size of the substrate molecules increases and the size of the zeolite micropores decreases. Accordingly, in biodiesel (and biolube) dewaxing, the benefits are even more pronounced: improved cold flow properties at an unprecedented low product loss. In high-throughput tests performed at HTE, using industrial feeds and process conditions, Zeopore reached 5 times lower diesel yield loss at high cloud point or pour point improvements compared to an industrial reference zeolite. Furthermore, Zeopore's catalytic dewaxing innovation reduces capacity-limiting gas formation, improves product slate composition, and maintains favourable zeolite activities and lifetimes. Refer to press release: ‘Catalytic dewaxing: Zeopore reaches 30°C cloud point improvement with diesel yield loss under 2wt%’ (https://www.zeopore.com/post/catalytic-dewaxing-zeopore-reaches-30-c-cloud-point-improvement-with-diesel-yield-loss-under-2wt
Zeopore zeolite selectivity and activity versus reference (parent)
Recently, Zeopore has been approached by leading biofuel manufacturing companies and related process developers. For these customers, we defined the optimum catalyst properties for specific sustainable diesel and jetfuel applications, tuned zeolite mesoporization accordingly, and already scaled up to pilot volumes. Currently our product is being performance tested by the customer, showing convincing preliminary results.
2. Advanced chemical plastic waste recycling
Currently, Europe collects roughly 30 million tons of post-consumption plastics, with 65% going to landfill or energy recovery. This amount will further increase in light of recycling targets stipulating 50% in 2025 and 55% in 2030. Chemical recycling is one of the most powerful answers in meeting those challenging targets.
Mesoporous zeolites offer chemical recycling the potential to revolutionize hard-to-recycle plastic waste streams. These deliver value in improving the catalytic pyrolysis of waste plastics. Here, Zeopore demonstrated that mesoporous faujasite and ZSM-5-based zeolite catalysts improve the overall efficiency of the process, yielding order-of-magnitude activity improvements over conventional zeolites.
Also in the further workup of py oil and py gas into propylene and aromatics, respectively, Zeopore is taking up a pioneering role towards further developments, and has already demonstrated its ability to boost conversion rates while significantly steering the product slate towards the most valuable fractions. This is unique, because with both reactions, the role of zeolites is much less established at industrial scale due to the presence of bulky plastic polymer chains.
Currently, Zeopore is active on all three mentioned reactions as part of commercial assignments being executed for leading plastic recycling companies. This illustrates that Zeopore actively contributes to developing more efficient processes for gaining high-value products from chemical plastic waste recycling. Its technology toolbox allows for introducing significant levels of mesoporosity without the loss of intrinsic properties, such as microporosity and acidity. In addition, it can tailor its zeolites to act as scavengers for common poisons, hereby ensuring an economic catalyst lifetime.
3. Carbon capture via upgrading intermediate base chemicals (e.g. green methanol)
Carbon capture, usage & storage (CCUS) deployment is on rise with a total annual capture capacity of over 45 Mt CO2, delivering huge amounts of f.ex. green methanol. However, the pipeline of current projects is only around a third of what is required in the Net Zero Scenario for 2030. Downward routes for green methanol benefit greatly from the utilization of mesoporous zeolites: enhanced catalytic activity, improved selectivity, and reduced environmental impact.
Zeopore’s mesoporous zeolites materials facilitate a more efficient and sustainable pathway for transforming base chemicals (e.g. methanol) into valuable fuels and chemicals. The catalytic methanol-to-olefins (MTO) conversion process delivers ethylene and propylene. Further downstream, these olefins serve as input for deriving polyolefins, from which many plastic materials are produced.
Zeolite mesoporization allows for boosting the economics of MTO conversion. When applied to standard off-the-shelf ZSM-5 zeolite, Zeopore enables porosity and acidity tuning as well as in-situ metal additive inclusion and a higher metal dispersion. Next to the expected catalyst lifetime multiplication, the results show strongly increased propylene selectivity in a single pass, increasing productivity 15 to 25% depending on process conditions. By meticulously tuning the porosity and other zeolitic properties, Zeopore is able to steer the selectivity towards desired fractions and improve the stability of the catalyst for each specific MTO process.
Refer to press release: ‘Zeopore yields 20% profitability increase in the growing worldwide methanol-to-olefins market’ (https://www.zeopore.com/post/zeopore-yields-20-profitability-increase-in-the-growing-worldwide-methanol-to-olefins-market)
Optimization of a conventional ZSM-5 zeolite resulted in a remarkable 15 to 25% higher propylene selectivity. As a result, Zeopore nearly doubled both the propylene/ethylene and olefin/paraffin ratios.
Currently, Zeopore is promoting its proven added value in the market. We are engaging with a leading European manufacturer in a number of mesoporized zeolite product deliveries which are being tested by the customer. Further business development is ongoing since this market is heavily dominated by China.
4. Biomass conversion
Mesoporous zeolites show great potential in advancing the sustainability and efficiency of biomass conversion processes, enabling the production of renewable fuels and chemicals from renewable feedstocks. Any such catalytic pyrolysis process applied on renewable biomass, such as low-value crops and energy grasses, involves oxygen removal through hydrogen de-oxydation (HDO) next to the main product-generating chemical step.
As HDO plays an essential role in biomass conversion, Zeopore is teaming up with a reputable academic partner to jointly optimize HDO processes. This collaboration allows for acquiring deeper expertise in order to further enhance HDO productivity and tunability. We have already obtained two successful customer cases. The first concerns the conversion of sugars into bio-fuels. The second customer case involves the conversion of biomass into aromatics, delivering renewable BTX chemicals at an economic viable level. These are used for producing plastics and making dyes and synthetic detergents, respectively.
Overall, Zeopore will continue to collaborate with customers, partners and knowledge organizations to further extend its expertise and application reach.
Quite a major milestone is that Zeopore is setting up its own in-house industrial pilot unit for mesoporizing zeolites. The pilot installation allows us to further tune our unique mesoporization process and deliver ton-scale testing volumes of mesoporized zeolites to our customers. This allows refining and petrochemical companies to make their processes more performant and sustainable. Refer to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2S_C-KYePA
At the same time, we also use our pilot installation to produce zeolite based catalysts for green applications. We are looking for partners, co-developers and consortia to jointly embed our catalytic innovations in broader technology developments for improving existing and realizing new green processes and supply chains.
At Zeopore, we are excited about new collaborations in the sustainable arena to which Zeopore may contribute. We feel privileged to be a part of the journey of the chemical industry towards a more sustainable future.
Refer to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2S_C-KYePA