Given my limited background in organic chemistry, I am still trying to comprehend the potential importance of olefin metathesis technology within the overall chemical industry. However, Elevance has a nice summary of what metathesis is all about on its web page.
Elevance recently announced its partnership with Italian chemical firm Versalis on the joint development and scaling up of new catalysts that Elevance has been developing with Swiss-based metathesis catalysts developer, XiMo AG, since 2011. Elevance and XiMo have been working on Molybdenum-catalyzed metathesis of natural oil esters and olefins, particularly ethylene.
Elevance is currently using Ruthenium-based metathesis catalysts licensed from Materia at its biorefinery in Gresik, Indonesia. The biorefinery uses natural oils and butene.
According to Elevance, both catalyst technology options have pros and cons, but both technologies can use the same natural oils feedstocks, and produce the same type of chemical output — olefins, specialty chemicals, oleochemicals, albeit with a slight difference in distribution. Elevance cites, for example, that the Molybdenum-based metathesis can produce more linear alpha olefins (LAO) distribution, and less linear internal olefins (LIO) in the mix. Another advantage for using the Molybdenum catalyst is the ability to use of ethylene instead of butene.
“Using Molybdenum catalysts, we are able to use ethylene, which is available on many petrochemical sites. Integration possibilities are better than butene, which is not as widely available as ethylene,” says Andy Shafer, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Elevance.
In the companies’ MOU, Versalis and Elevance will assess the design and construction of the first world-scale ethylene metathesis-based production that will use renewable oils at the Versalis Porto Marghera site. This will take advantage of existing infrastructure and production streams.
Versalis plans to invests EUR 200 million in Porto Marghera to overhaul, optimize and reorganize cracker utilities, energy saving, and development of green chemistry project at the site. The investment is expected for the site to regain competitiveness. Versalis plans to temporarily shut down the cracking/aromatic cycle of Porto Marghera for six months in order to absorb the current downturn in the market and to optimize the material balance of Versalis’ industrial system, without any impact on downstream products manufactured in nearby Versalis’ sites including Mantova, Ferrara and Ravenna.
In the MOU, Versalis said it will contribute its extensive skills in catalysis process development and engineering design scale-up. Elevance, meanwhile, will bring proprietary know-how regarding metathesis and associated engineering with the use of vegetable oils in producing specialty chemicals for premium applications.
The market applications of the future bio-chemicals production include personal care, detergents and cleaners, bio-lubricants, and oilfield chemicals.
I will try to analyze some of these markets and the potential of metathesis-based alpha olefins production in my February report on Tecnon OrbiChem’s Bio-Materials newsletter.