phate catalyst by Chevron Research and Technology Company. A new process for producing maleic anhydride by using novel catalyst and reactor technologies is currently under development by Du Pont and is scheduled for commercialization in the mid-1990s.
An extensive worldwide effort is now under way to develop the catalytic oxidative coupling of methane to petrochemicals as well as liquid fuels. This effort encompasses oxidative coupling of methane to ethylene or aromatics, oxidative methylation of toluene to ethylbenzene and styrene, oxidative methylation of propylene to C4 olefins, and dehydrogenative coupling of methane to aromatics. This area of methane conversion captured exceptional interest and attention all over the world in the mid 1980s.
The relative abundance of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas, containing mostly propane and butane) and the strong demand for aromatics have prompted British Petroleum (BP) to develop a process for the catalytic conversion of LPG to aromatics. The BP process employs a zeolite-based catalyst developed by BP in conjunction with UOP's continuous catalyst regeneration system. LPG is converted to a mixture of aromatics, 95% of which are benzene, toluene, and xylenes. The aromatics yield is 65%. In another alkane utilization project, BP Chemicals is developing a process for the direct one-step ammoxidation of propane to acrylonitrile. Key to the process is a proprietary catalyst. Now at the pilot-plant stage, the process is targeted for commercialization in the mid-1990s.
A new commercial development in catalytic alkane dehydrogenation relates to the production of isobutylene and of propylene. The isobutylene requirement is for the production of gasoline octane enhancers (i.e., methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE), and the propylene need is driven by changes in the feedstock used to produce ethylene, which have resulted in less byproduct propylene production. Several companies have recently installed or are currently installing new plants for the production of isobutylene and propylene. In light of this remarkable development, there may also be opportunities for new catalysts that would be capable of promoting oxidative dehydrogenation of lower alkanes (i.e., ethane, propane, and isobutane) to their corresponding olefins. Direct functionalization of hydrocarbons remains a very significant approach (i.e., ethane to ethanol, propane to acrylonitrile, and butane to 1,4-butanediol).
Catalytic dehydrogenation of paraffins is also widely practiced commercially for the production of linear olefins in the C10-C17 range, used in the manufacture of biodegradable detergent intermediates. Typically, olefins in the C10-C14 range are used in the production of linear alkylbenzenes (LAB)