April 17, 2024
Ethylene And Propylene

Using Ethylene And Propylene In Everyday Life

Production of Ethylene and Propylene

Ethylene and propylene are among the most widely used petrochemicals globally. Both are produced primarily through steam cracking of petroleum feedstocks like natural gas liquids, naphtha and gas oils. Steam cracking involves heating the feedstock in the presence of steam at temperatures around 800°C – 900°C to break the long chain hydrocarbon molecules into shorter ones. This process yields mostly ethylene, propylene, butadiene and other materials as byproducts.

While steam cracking remains the dominant production method, alternatives like ethanol cracking and methanol-to-olefins are also gaining popularity. In ethanol cracking, ethanol is dehydrated to produce ethylene. The methanol-to-olefins process converts natural gas-derived methanol into hydrocarbons like ethylene and propylene. Overall, petrochemical facilities worldwide produce over 150 million metric tons of ethylene and 90 million metric tons of Ethylene And Propylene every year.

Uses of Ethylene

Ethylene is used to manufacture various polymers like polyethylene, PVC and ethylene oxide. Polyethylene accounts for almost half of ethylene consumption. It finds widespread applications from plastic bags and containers to pipes and wires insulations. PVC or polyvinyl chloride is used to make vinyl products like pipes, siding, profiles and wire coatings. Ethylene oxide is converted into ethylene glycol which is used to produce polyester fibers and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins.

Other significant derivatives and products derived from ethylene include ethylene dichloride, ethylbenzene, ethanol and ethylene amines. Ethylene dichloride is utilized to make vinyl chloride for PVC production. Ethylbenzene is primarily used for styrene production. Ethanol is increasingly being used as a biofuel. Ethylene amines like ethylenediamine are important intermediates for production of various chemicals and industrial polymers.

Uses of Propylene

Major end uses of propylene include production of polypropylene, propylene oxide and cumene. Polypropylene accounts for over half of propylene consumption globally. It is used extensively in packaging films, plastic parts in automotive and consumer appliances industries, textiles and stationery goods. Propylene oxide serves as a raw material for manufacture of polyether polyols used in polyurethane foam production. Cumene produced from propylene is oxidized to make phenol, one of the most important crude materials in industry.

Other derivates of propylene include acrylic and acrylonitrile fibers, propylene glycol, oxo-alcohols and various other industrial/petrochemical intermediates. Propylene glycol finds applications in foods and personal care products as a humectant and solvent. Oxo-alcohols are detergent alcohols and plasticizers. Acrylonitrile is primarily used to synthesize acrylic fibers and resins. With steady growth in plastics, construction and automotive industries, worldwide propylene demand is projected to increase at an annual rate of 4-5% in coming years.

Impact of pandemic on production and demand

The global outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic had a enormous impact on petrochemical industry and demand for ethylene and propylene in 2020. With lockdowns and restrictions imposed worldwide, the consumption of various derived petrochemical products like packaging films, fibers, automotive parts faced steep decline at the beginning stages of pandemic. This led to considerable reduction in steam cracker operating rates and petrochemical plants temporarily shutting few units.

However, as pandemic continued, demand picked up for essential medical products and supplies made from polyethylene and polypropylene like face masks, gloves, sanitizers, packaging films for food delivery etc. Many petrochemical companies worked closely with healthcare product manufacturers to fulfill raw material requirements. By late 2020, consumption of primary petrochemicals started recovering with stimulus packages boosting infrastructure spending and construction activities. Moving forward, demand is projected to follow pre-pandemic growth trends backed by expanding global population and economic growth in developing markets.

Safety and environmental considerations

Being highly flammable gases, safety protocols need to be strictly followed during ethylene and propylene production, transportation and storage. Potential hazards include formation of explosive mixtures with air, chemical burns from liquefied gases and asphyxiation in poorly ventilated areas. Regular monitoring and preventive maintenance of plant equipment is essential to avoid leaks and process upsets. Workers handling these chemicals require proper protective equipment and training in Standard Operating Procedures.

Environmental regulations also aim to reduce air pollutant emissions from crackers operating at high temperatures. Recovery of byproducts helps improve efficiency. There is increasing focus on sustainable feedstock diversification like agricultural/forestry residues, municipal solid waste and adoption of carbon capture technologies to minimize GHG emissions footprint. Recycling spent plastic made from ethylene and propylene derivatives also promotes circular economy principles. Ongoing research evaluates production via bio-based routes and renewable energy powered processes.

Ethylene and propylene have emerged as indispensable building blocks underpinning petrochemical industry’s pivotal role in modern economy and daily lives. Constant innovation leads to development of new performance materials and applications across industries. Responsible production balancing environmental, safety and community aspects remains an area of focus. With global megatrends of population growth and rising living standards, the demand for these olefins and associated petrochemical derivatives are foreseen increasing substantially in the foreseeable future.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it