High Selectivities to Ethylene by Partial Oxidation of Ethane

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Science  30 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5428, pp. 712-715
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5428.712

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At least 85 percent selectivity to ethylene at greater than 70 percent conversion can be obtained by partial oxidation of ethane by adding large amounts of H2 to the reaction mixture and using a platinum-tin catalyst operating at 950°C with a contact time of ∼10−3 seconds. This system almost totally shuts off the reactions that form undesired CO and CO2, which fall from 20 percent without H2 to 5 percent when H2is added. Although a 2/1 H2/O2 mixture should be explosive at high temperatures, no flames or explosions occur in the presence of ethane. The successive reactions on the catalyst generate more H2 than used in the feed, so with recycle no additional H2 would be needed. These results are unexpected because ethylene is a nonequilibrium product and entropy considerations argue that all reaction channels open at high temperatures so the products should approach equilibrium, which predicts only a few percent ethylene. This process is promising for the replacement of steam cracking in the production of ethylene.

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