Catalytic Conversion of Syngas to Chemical Products III
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Catalytic Conversion of Syngas to Chemical Products III

Recently issued technical investigation commissioned by the members of the Catalytic Advances Program (CAP) details recent advancements in technologies for the conversion of syngas

See report TofC here as PDF

As you well know, synthesis gas (syngas) is one of the most important building blocks for the chemical and petrochemical industry. What you may not know is that the global syngas market is experiencing a significant growth and is anticipated to expand from 133,270 MW in 2016 to 330,273 MW by 2026, at an annual growth rate of 9.5%! The prime movers behind the expected growth are the chemical, fertilizer, and coal-to-liquids (CTL) industries in China, the oil sands in Canada, polygeneration (hydrogen and power or chemicals) and substitute natural gas (SNG) in the United States, and refining in Europe. In particular, global methanol demand is expecting unprecedented growth between 2015 and 2025, with demand rising by 23% (!), mainly driven by its extensive use as blending component in gasoline cars and as feedstock for the production of olefins and aromatics in MTO and MTA plants, respectively, in China.

In addressing this impressive growth trend and these powerful process advances, The Catalyst Group Resources (TCGR) has recently issued a technical investigative report entitled, Catalytic Conversion of Syngas to Chemical Products III, commissioned by members of the Catalytic Advances Program (CAP). This report, an update of the 2013 and 2008 studies and produced exclusively for members of CAP, provides insights into current and leading-edge technologies for the conversion of syngas.

TCGR’s deep analysis and timely report addresses real-world, industrially-focused challenges…

Chapter 1, Introduction, documents the current and anticipated growth of markets for syngas. The “hydrogen economy” is unlikely to supplant conventional processes with expected growth led by China’s coal-derived syngas production.

Chapter 2, Direct Conversion of Syngas to Chemicals, states how methanol is a widely used intermediate in a number of processes and co-product in the chemical and related industries. This in-depth chapter also:

  • Compares the seven commercial processes in operation for MeOH.
  • Compares commercial methanol catalysts with focus on deactivation and pretreatment, both of which have significant economic impacts.
  • Describes process development advances based on closer heat integration while maintaining temperatures and pressures near optimal. While syngas-based methanol processes are relatively mature, incremental improvements can result in significant cost reductions.
  • Surveys syngas processes to higher alcohol synthesis (HAS) and summarizes the status of the various process advances toward HAS, including “unconventional” operation modes, such as operation in supercritical hexane.
  • Evaluates advances in Mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) production, an important syngas-based product.

Table: Top 10 Promoted and Supported Modified MS Catalysts

Adapted from Luk et al. (2017)

Chapter 3, Indirect Conversion of Syngas to Chemicals,discusses the carbonylation of MeOH to acetic acid and analyzes how the market is growing at significant rate from 13 millions/tons in 2015 to 18 million tons by 2020. Chapter 3 also:

  • Describes progress and continuous improvements on homogeneous catalysis, including the addition of Ir, the use of cobalt co-catalysts, and Ni-based catalysts.
  • Summarizes development of heterogeneous carbonyl catalysts for eliminating the catalyst/product(s) separation step.
  • Describes progress and process advances on catalysts themselves, as virtually all of the active acetic acid companies are actively pursuing the basic science of these processes and piloting the new improvements.
  • Focuses on acetic anhydride, one of several derivative products from acetic acid.
  • Describes reactions and history of reactions of CO or CO2 with alkenes such as relatively higher-value products including acrylic acid and propionic acid.
  • Summarizes related alkoxycarbonylation reactions, such as the reaction of CO, ethylene, and methanol to ketones.
  • Discusses oxidative carbonylation, the insertion reaction of CO into a specific reactant, e.g., insertion of styrenes in to unsaturated esters.

Chapter 4, Conversion of Syngas to Chemicals via Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, focuses on synthesis/production of olefins and aromatics from syngas via Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS). Although another route involving syngas-methanol-olefins is commercially practiced, there is nevertheless significant interest in a direct, one-step process: syngas-olefins (and/or aromatics). Also analyzed in this chapter are:

  • Light olefins, as given current technology and the market there is an apparent shortfall in the market for C3-C4 olefins, suggesting that FT-based processes could provide the needed products.
  • Aromatics, where there is interest in biomass conversion given its selectivity (e.g., fermentation to ethanol, and it subsequent dehydration to ethylene).
  • A review of “successful” synthesis of aromatics from other reactants (e.g., propane, methane, or methanol), including low per-pass conversion and deactivation.
  • Analysis of both indirect and direct processes for producing light olefins. While theoretical product distribution has placed interest in the indirect process, the direct process has attracted lab interest in China.

Figure: Proposed Reaction Mechanism of the OX-ZEO Process

      Adapted from Cheng et al. (2017a)

TCGR’s Catalytic Advances Program (CAP) is an information resource for research and development organizations in the chemical, polymer, and petroleum industries. Depending on their membership choice, CAP members may receive all three or just two annual technical reports as well as the weekly newsletter known as CAP Communications. This newsletter provides the latest updates on technical breakthroughs, commercial advancements, noteworthy conference proceedings, and exclusive development opportunities. Membership also includes attendance at a CAP Annual Meeting, with dates, location, and topics selected by the membership.

More information about this and other services of the Catalytic Advances Program (CAP)
can be seen at
Call +1-215-628-4447 or e-mail John J. Murphy at,
and we’ll be happy to discuss these and other interesting membership benefits.

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The Catalyst Group Resources (TCGR), a member of The Catalyst Group, is dedicated to monitoring and analyzing technical and commercial developments in catalysis as they apply to the global refining, petrochemical, fine/specialty chemical, pharmaceutical, polymer/elastomer and environmental industries.