Producing Linear Alpha Olefins from Biomass
Linear alpha olefins (LAOs) are valuable commodity chemicals traditionally derived from petroleum. They are versatile building blocks for making a range of chemical products like polyethylene, synthetic oils, plasticizers, detergents and oilfield fluids. Relying on fossil fuel to manufacture LAOs is problematic. Not only are the standard methods unsustainable, but they also do not allow for the formation of LAOs with odd carbon numbers and they result in a distribution of LAOs with different chain lengths. A new approach using renewable sources is spurring great interest, but so far has required costly catalysts.
UW–Madison researchers have developed a method for producing LAOs cheaply from biomass. In the process, an inexpensive solid acid catalyst is used in a reaction that converts the carboxylic acids and lactones present in the feedstock. The catalyst features Lewis acid catalytic sites and no precious metal components.
- Cheaper heterogeneous catalyst
- One-step process
- Produces a stream of highly pure LAOs
- Utilizes biomass
- Carbon chain length can be specified.
- Allows both even and odd carbon numbers
- LAO production
A stream containing 1-butene was obtained at 48 percent total butane yield using a gamma-aluminum catalyst. Yield increased to 70 percent when the catalyst was modified with tungsten oxide. Both types of catalyst can reused with no loss of yield.
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