Going further with Alpha technology
Over the past 15 years, Lucite International has developed Alpha technology, a completely new route to MMA based on readily available raw materials – ethylene, methanol and carbon monoxide. Alpha has removed constraints on plant size, provided us with the opportunity to reduce capital investment and has significantly improved our operating economics.
Award winning recognition
The technology is the result of extensive and novel research into catalysis and new processes by our own scientists and engineers and has achieved recognition through several prestigious awards, including:
- 2009 Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Award – Winner
- Chemical Industry Association (CIA) 2009 Innovation Award – Winner
- ICIS Innovations Awards 2009 – Short-listed for Best Product Innovation
- The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award 2010 – Finalist
Proving technology with Alpha 1
In 2008, we demonstrated Alpha technology at commercial scale with a 100kte/annum plant in Singapore. It was built on time, to budget and began production significantly above its nameplate capacity. Unlike traditional MMA processes there are no polymer/solids blockage, corrosion, or machine issues or vulnerabilities. Product purity, an absolute market requirement for high margin optical polymers for LED/LCD TV monitors and PDA screens, has consistently been industry leading.
Alpha 2 underway
On 9 June 2011, our parent company, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) announced their intentions to form a joint venture company seeking to invest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first MMA and MMA polymer assets. Alpha is the technology of choice for the largest ever MMA plant (250kte/annum), which will benefit from three years of operational learning and will encompass energy saving technology to further enhance its environmental credentials.
Building on the track record of success, we will continue to develop energy efficiency, yield and output improvements, which will be incorporated into future Alpha plants. In this way, Lucite International aims to provide reliable, long-term, sustainable supplies at competitive prices to its global customers.
Sustainable routes to methacrylates
Lucite International is committed to achieving substantial reductions in the environmental footprint of its business. This means lowering our dependence on fossil fuels for raw materials, reducing water consumption and our overall carbon footprint. We are also measuring the carbon footprint of our operations to ensure real improvement is directed and effective.
Key areas of our work include:
- Developing our new Alpha technology for MMA production and further improving its energy efficiency.
- Focusing on renewable resources and development of technologies to use in the production of MMA monomers and polymers.
- Development and implementation of energy and efficiency improvement programs across all of our manufacturing sites.
We believe that by applying a fundamental approach to finding the best environmental routes to methacrylates, we will ensure a long-term sustainable future for the environment, our customers and our other major stakeholders.
Further developing Alpha technology to achieve even greater efficiencies
After 15 years of development work, Lucite International built the first Alpha technology plant based on ethylene instead of acetone as a feedstock in 2008. One of the key drivers for the development of this new route to MMA was to minimise by-product and waste formation thereby achieving attractive process economics and the capability of improved environmental impact.
The first commercial Alpha plant is now in full operation and has impressive manufacturing performance characteristics. While the first Alpha plant has already delivered attractive yields compared to other MMA technologies, we continue to learn more about the potential of this brand new process. Programs to further improve raw material use and significantly reduce energy consumption are well developed. Several of these programs are planned retrofits to our existing Alpha operations. They will also be incorporated into Alpha 2, which is scheduled for operation in 2014.
Focusing on renewable resources
There are a number of potential routes using renewable feedstocks for Lucite International’s global operations and we are working to define the most appropriate options to move the business to a much lower carbon footprint.
Selection of renewable feedstocks
An important factor in the selection of renewable feedstocks is the consideration of resources for food production. Our policy is not to use crops that can be used for food. Instead we will rely on raw materials from domestic, agricultural and industrial waste using, for example, household waste, wheat straw and wood chips. Where suitable land is available, we are also examining the use of specific lignocellulosic crops, such as miscanthus grass or coppiced hardwood trees, which have been developed to produce high yields, with low inputs of fertilizers and water. By using a combination of these feedstocks, we firmly believe that renewables can play a significant part in the future of our methacrylate production.
Potential to source all major raw materials from bio-feedstocks
All of Lucite International’s major raw materials can potentially be made from bio-feedstocks. For example, acetone can be produced from sugars or domestic waste using the ABE process; bio-ethanol can be converted to make bio-ethylene, and bio-methanol can be made from bio-gas or gasification of domestic waste. We are currently working with a number of companies to investigate the feasibility of acetone production in this way and plan to evaluate the introduction of bio-methanol and bio-ethylene into our MMA manufacturing operations.
Direct conversion of renewable feedstocks to our main products
Our ultimate goal is to convert renewable feedstocks directly into our main products using completely new, white biotechnology processes. To achieve this, we are addressing the many technological challenges in designing complex new biochemical routes using completely novel biochemistry. Most importantly for large-scale manufacture, the fermentation process must be able to deliver high concentrations of the product at acceptable output rates. These last two factors play a major role in defining both the physical size of the plant (and hence resources) and the energy required to achieve a pure chemical product.
Programs of work
Lucite International is actively addressing these issues via a multi-stage program with a number of commercial research organisations and partner universities in Europe with the objective of identifying the best biochemistry and manufacturing routes on an environmental basis.
Our current programs incorporate:
- Selection of renewable feedstocks and conversion to soluble carbohydrate
- Production of a number of different chemical intermediates by fermentation
- Conversion of these to methacrylates
- Direct production of methacrylates by fermentation.
We believe that by working to improve our existing operations and finding the best environmental new routes to methacrylates, we can build a sustainable future for the environment, our customers and other major stakeholders.