Comparative study of conventional, reactive-distillation and pervaporation integrated hybrid process for ethyl tert-butyl ether production
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Ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE) is widely used as an oxygenate additive to gasoline; however, a drawback in the conventional ETBE manufacture is the energy intensive product recovery process, making ETBE expensive. The purification process of ETBE involves the separation of ETBE, mixed C4 hydrocarbons and unreacted ethanol. The unreacted ethanol forms azeotropic mixtures with ETBE that are difficult to separate by distillation. In this work, a comparative study between the conventional process to produce ETBE and two alternative intensified processes is presented by means of process simulation in Aspen Plus. One of the alternative methods for improving the separation and purification section of ETBE is the use of a hybrid distillation-pervaporation process with alcohol-selective membranes, which allows to reach the target ETBE purity (95.2 wt%) with a lower energy consumption and at the same time the permeate stream, with a high ethanol content, is recycled back to the reaction section. Alternatively, the production of ETBE by means of reactive distillation is analyzed for the same basis of calculation. The results show that the reactive distillation allows a significant increase in the conversion of the reactants, but in contrast the energy consumption is higher than in the other processes evaluated.