A very bright fu­ture for chem­i­cal in­dus­try: Padma Vis­b­hushan Pro­fes­sor M.M. Sharma

Chemical Industry Digest - - News & Views - - With in­puts from Dr K S Murthy

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.

Fis­cher-Trop­sch model

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.

Elec­tro­chem­i­cal pro­cesses

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

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