Good morning. Exciting news—The Column's Job Board is launching today! If you're interested in working for an innovative company in the chemical sector (such as Origin Materials and Solugen), create your profile here and check out the open roles.
From the condenser:
· PureCycle's European plant
· Sulfuric acid in the Czech Republic
· MOTD: caprolactam
PureCycle is headed to Europe
Polypropylene (PP) recycler, PureCycle, has announced plans to build its first plant in Europe at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium.
Polypropylene is frequently used in plastic packaging, which means it perpetuates the color problem: consumers are influenced by marketing, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies know that colors stand out on the shelf, and so CPG companies design packaging with colorful plastic. That's an issue because if you want colorful plastic, you need to start with clear or white plastic and add some dye—but when you melt and extrude a rainbow of plastic waste, you end up with grey plastic, not clear or white plastic.
So, what's the deal here?
PureCycle's process technology dissolves and removes the dyes found in plastic waste so that recyclers can produce white plastic. They are planning to start up their first site in the next few months, but already have plans to build more sites in a bunch of different places (Florida, Georgia, and joint sites with SK Chemical and Mitsui). Now, with today's announcement, we can add Belgium to that list of upcoming sites.
Site announcements are just the first step in a very long process that ends with an operating plant. For a well established company, like Dow Chemical, you can be confident that when they select a site it will actually happen, but for a company who has yet to start up their flagship plant, there's a lot more uncertainty because funding hasn't been secured.
Sulfuric acid in the Czech Republic
Czech chemical company, Spolana, is building a sulfuric acid plant at its site in Neratovice, Czech Republic.
The background you need:
We've been making concentrated sulfuric acid at scale for a couple of centuries, and the way we do so is awfully similar to the method patented in 1831. First, we burn sulfur (often from oil and gas) to make sulfur dioxide, then we add more oxygen (in the presence of a catalyst) to make sulfur trioxide, and then we then bubble that sulfur trioxide up an absorption column containing a less concentrated solution of sulfuric acid. The resulting oleum is then added to water to make concentrated sulfuric acid.
Okay, so what's going on here?
Spolana wants a 200,000 ton per year sulfuric acid plant, and they selected Nuberg EPC to design and build it. That sulfuric acid will probably be used by Spolana in a few ways: as a dehydrating agent in the production of vinyl chloride (for making PVC), as a catalyst in the production of caprolactam (for making Nylon), or as a feedstock in the production of ammonium sulfate (a nitrogen-based fertilizer).
If you've ever taken a chemistry course, there's a high chance that you wrote out a reaction and scribbled an H2SO4 above the reaction arrow—that's because while sulfuric acid hardly ever pops up in our finished products, it's frequently used in the processes themselves. After all, we make roughly the same amount of sulfuric acid each year as we do ethylene (global production for each sit around 220 million tons per year).
Some more headlines
- The EU Innovation Fund is enabling a waste-to-hydrogen plant in the Netherlands
- Covestro is marketing the chlor-alkali products it makes with hydropower as sustainable
- Elkem started capturing CO2 at its ferrosilicon and microsilica plant in Norway
- ExxonMobil started up its polypropylene expansion in Baton Rouge
- SABIC might build a 200,000 ton per year molecular recycling plant
Molecule of The Day
Today's MOTD is the most interesting one of all: caprolactam.
First described in the late 19th century, the world now produces nearly 7 million tons per year of caprolactam—most of which is made by Fibrant, Sinopec, BASF, and Advansix. Newer producers, like Genomatica, are now attempting to scale the production of caprolactam from a bioprocess.
Today, most of the caprolactam made (about 90%) is synthesized from cyclohexanone. Almost all of what is produced is later polymerized to make Nylon 6(which takes its final form as a filament, fiber, or plastic).
- Book: The Alchemy of Air is a must-read for anyone interested in the chemical industry. It's the story behind the Haber-Bosch process that lead to fertilizer—and explosives.*
- Safety Moment: Read this article to learn how improving the ergonomics in a chemical plant can improve the safety in the workplace.
- Podcast: Check out this episode featuring a metallurgy and process development expert.
What did you think of today's edition?