The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and NETL recently selected Susteon to receive $1.25 million of funding to develop a novel catalytic non-thermal plasma (CNTP) technology using metallic/bi-metallic catalysts for utilizing CO2 as a soft-oxidant to produce ethylene and propylene from ethane and propane. This technology has a potential to operate at low temperatures, have flexible operations, be modular, and create a smaller carbon footprint than conventional methods.

The key step in this conversion is the plasma assisted catalytic conversion of CO2 to CO and subsequent conversion of ethane and propane to ethylene and propylene through well-known oxidative hydrogenation chemistry. The proposed CNTP technology offers many advantages such as low temperature operation (100 to 300°C vs. 700 to 900°C for conventional steam cracking), short start up time (minutes vs. several hours), wide turndown ratio, smaller footprint, multiple stop/starts capability, on-demand operation, and modularity. Scaling of this technology from the laboratory to bench, pilot and commercial scale would be accomplished by employing industrially deployed plasma reactor designs.

Non-thermal plasmas can generate reactive species at low temperatures, which allows us to perform chemical reaction at low temperatures. This cannot be realized in conventional chemistry. The existing route of steam cracking of alkanes emits around 1 to 2.5 metric tons (MT) of CO2 for every MT of olefin (ethylene/propylene) formed. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the CNTP process indicates that the new process utilizes 0.92 MT of CO2 per MT of olefin products when renewable power is used. The CO2 avoided is thus about 3 MT per MT of olefin product.

Carbon negative processes such as this has a potential to reduce industrial CO2 emissions substantially, while producing valuable chemicals at competitive costs. At the end of this project, the technology should be ready for a pilot-plant testing.

Susteon is partnering with New Castle University (New Castle upon Tyne, United Kingdom), North Carolina State University (Raleigh, North Carolina), and SoCalGas (Los Angeles, California).