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Argonne breakthrough may revolutionize ethylene production
06
Feb '08
A new environmentally friendly technology created by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory may revolutionize the production of the world's most commonly produced organic compound, ethylene.

An Argonne research team led by senior ceramist Balu Balachandran devised a high-temperature membrane that can produce ethylene from an ethane stream by removing pure hydrogen. “This is a clean, energy-efficient way of producing a chemical that before required methods that were expensive and wasteful and also emitted a great deal of pollution,” Balachandran said.

Ethylene has a vast number of uses in all aspects of industry. Farmers and horticulturalists use it as a plant hormone to promote flowering and ripening, especially in bananas. Doctors and surgeons have also long used ethylene as an anesthetic, while ethylene-based polymers can be found in everything from freezer bags to fiberglass.

Because the new membrane lets only hydrogen pass through it, the ethane stream does not come into contact with atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen, preventing the creation of a miasma of greenhouse gases—nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide—associated with the traditional production of ethylene by pyrolysis, in which ethane is exposed to jets of hot steam.

The world's ethylene producers manufacture more than 75 million metric tons of ethylene per year, causing millions of metric tons' worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

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