A very bright future for chemical industry: Padma Visbhushan Professor M.M. Sharma
Chemical engineering has a tradition and culture of being an ‘evolving discipline’. Professor M.M. Sharma, renowned scientist, former director of UDCT (ICT now), eulogised Prof. K. Venkataraman’s Memorial lecture at ICT on 7th April 2018. In a very illuminating lecture, Prof. Sharma spoke on a wide range of chemistry and chemical engineering area making this lecture virtually captivating.
Prof. Sharma covered topics from chemical engineering to green chemistry and also explained the tremendous scope in manufacturing a variety of chemicals. The highlights of which are as below:
Chemical industry is boundless
Prof. Sharma emphasised that chemistry is in every❍ thing and everywhere. It is the first industry which has global reach with more than 100,000 products in market.
He said that by 2030 chemical industry will be $7 trillion industry. The coming age of chemical engineering shall be rewarding, exciting, edifying and boundless.
Operation of fuel refineries in petrochemical mode and crude oil cracking
Speaking at the petrochemical scenario Prof. Sharma ❍ stated that to maximise the production of propylene and concomitant production of ethylene and butenes, catalytic cracking should be used in India. He also stressed on the importance of catalytic dehydrogenation of propane to produce propylene. The Light Cycle Oil that comes from cat-cracking shall become an important source of naphthalene, which is widely consumed in Indian constructions. He stated that the crude oil would be cracked directly in coming years. He particularly mentioned the propane co-cracking with ethane in India is not ideal as conditions required for cracking propane are different from that of ethane.
Dow’s 750,000 tons per annum of propylene from propane is based on shale gas by catalytic dehydrogenation. Bright future for thermoplastic elastomers, plasticisers, perfumery and natural rubber
Prof. Sharma foresees a situation ❍ where no C4 olefins enter LPG pool.
He stressed on the value-added prod- ucts that can be produced after isobutylene separation via MTBE and cracking. Further, he stated that if more and more ethylene comes from shale-derived ethane there might be a shortage of butadiene which can be fulfilled by conversion of butenes by oxidative dehydrogenation. In India, as far as butadiene derivatives are concerned, we have only styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) but he suggested using butadiene for thermo plastic elastomer and styrene-isoprene-styrene (SIS).
C 4 scan bedim eris ed and converted to make C 9 primary alcohol st om akep ht ha late plastic is e rs. India does not have any alpha-olefins plant. Sharma said that, we needed a very large-scale alpha-olefins plant, may be 200,000-tpa capacity because alphaolefins from oligomerisation of ethylene will be done on a very large scale in the coming days.
In the C5 fraction, naphtha crackers produce diolefins like isoprene, piperylene, cyclopentadiene and all these could be valorised. Large scale production of perfumery chemicals of global standards can be achieved when the feedstocks are available. He also suggested that when isoamylene is recovered via TAME, just like isobutylene via MTBE, it can be catalytically dehydrogenated to isoprene for making polyisoprene, a synthetic substitute for natural rubber.
Isobutylene, n-Butane and Isobutane derivaties
According to Prof. Sharma, India has no produc❍ tion of methacrylic acid today, and a new process, which completely avoids the use of HCN (hydrogen cyanide), can be deployed. Also, we don’t have a maleic anhydride plant in India based on butane and a capacity of the order of 100,000-tpa would be ideal.
Furthermore, ethane or naphtha crack❍ ers have plenty of hydrogen available, and a major part of it is now burnt as fuel in the furnace, which is very wasteful. This hydrogen is very handy in converting maleic anhydride to either 1,4- butanediol, gamma-but yro lac tone, or tetrahydro fur an. Just like xylene is being isomerised to exclusively make para-xylene, butane can also be isomerised to isobutane, even in a reactive distillation kind of setup and the isobutane can be converted
to a variety of products. Use of propane over propylene
Acrylonitrile has been made com❍ mercially from propane – a much cheaper feedstock than propylene. Prof. Sharma recommended in-situ dehydrogenation of propane and alkylation of benzene can produce cumene and if it takes place it would be the first plant in the world. Vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) production
Prof. Sharma felt that a breakthrough could be ❍ achieved via selective catalytic oxidative conversion of ethane simultaneously to ethylene and acetic acid, in the desired 1:1 mole ratio and subsequent conversion to VAM.
He said there was a very bright future for F-T ❍ plants operated in petrochemical mode. He also explained that Syngas, which typically accounts for about 40% of the cost, would be done via IGCC of pet-coke, etc. Additionally, dimethylether (DME) production shall be undertaken on a large scale. Liquefied natural gas (LNG)
Prof. Sharma warned that our energy imports were ❍ going to gallop and LNG would play an increasingly important role. Further, the availability of cheap oxygen at port and the import, at very low price, of high sulphur heavy crude oil fractions, for example from Kuwait, would allow us to make large amounts of sulphuric acid at the lowest possible costs. The sulphuric acid can then be used for acidulation of phosphate rock at the port.
Valorisation of methane
One of the largest applications would be dry re❍ forming of methane, where all the carbon is retained in carbon monoxide, with hydrogen production according to Sharma. The stability of the catalysts, which was a question mark, would be tackled. He also explained two avenues for CO utili
2 sation: one for CO to be used for dry reforming of
2 methane; and second the direct conversion of CO
2 to methanol with cheap hydrogen.
New polyesters will emerge, he predicted. As of ❍ now all are ethylene glycol based polyesters, but propanediol, a special diol, is also a strong candidate which should be adopted in India, Sharma stated.
In all xylene plants, C9 and C10 ❍ aromatics are put into the fuel loop. We have no production of trimellitic anhydride or pyromellitic anhydride. These are easy to recover, and are strong candidates to make much cheaper alkyd resins.
Fertilizers at coastal locations
Prof. Sharma explained that the ❍ problem in the fertilizer industry is that everything gets submerged because of the subsidy issue.
Six and half million tonnes of potassium chloride (KCl) is imported into India, as we have almost negligible production. For many crops KCl is not a good source of K. He considered that a coastal location is an ideal candidate for potassium chloride to be converted to potassium nitrate and potassium phosphate, and hydrochloric acid so generated would be used for acidulation of phosphate rock, with discharge of calcium chloride into the sea.
The nearby ammonia plant could used to make nitric acid. So a totally different way of supplying K can emerge. In the case of urea, apart from coated and large granule urea there is scope of urea nitrate and urea phosphate.
Electrons epitomise ‘clean agents’ remarked Prof. ❍
Sharma. Classical examples he mentioned were anodic and cathodic processes operating simultaneously in the BASF process to convert para-methoxytoluene to para-anisicaldehyde and reduction of phthalic anhydride to phthalide.
Advances in catalysis
A variety of new catalysts, for a number of process❍ es, including asymmetric and metathesis and polymerization, according to Prof. Sharma. He was of the opinion that, Enzymatic processes particularly those using transaminases, ketoreductases, etc. would be adopted on an increasing scale. Density Function Theory (DFT) and Simulations using Molecular Dynamics would be used. Renewables
Renewable energy critically depends as of now ❍ on lithium and we have no source of the element in India. Prof. Sharma explained that the windmill blades come in spans of 60-metres to 80-metres, compared to 40-metres, but with advances in composites, carbon nanotubes, carbon fibres, graphene
etc., he considers a strong possibility these large blades will be made and wind power will become far more attractive than it is today.
Prof. Sharma was confident that the chemical in❍ dustry shall adopt digitalisation, which can change value chains; lead to higher productivity; generate more innovation, create new channels to market; etc.
Prof. Sharma concluded the event with a bright note stating that, “There is really a very bright future for the chemical industry simply because the industry is essential, not negotiable and not optional. Let us cele- brate!”
Earlier, welcoming the gathering, Professor G.D Yadav, vice chancellor, ICT, formally introduced Prof. Sharma. Yadav said that he holds ICT in his heart.
Dr A.V. Rama Rao, Padma Bhushan, technocrat, entrepreneur, in his presence reminisced about Prof. K. Venkataraman at the oration.
Kishore V Mariwala, founder president of UAA, sponsored the endowment to pass on the knowledge of stalwarts and history created by them in pursuit of excellence.
Professor M.M. Sharma
Dr A V Rama Rao