Fundamentals of Polymer Fouling in Ethylene Crackers

Polymer fouling is a ubiquitous problem in ethylene cracking plants. Butadiene is an active conjugated diene that readily polymerizes at typical process conditions in the presence of active oxygen or free radical species. This monomer along with other compounds can make polymers that deposit in downstream equipment resulting in sub-optimal operation and eventual plant shut down.

A variety of empirical approaches have been developed and used, with mixed success, to ameliorate process fouling. However, there is limited fundamental understanding on the origin of fouling. Because the root cause of fouling is not often known, it is difficult to determine the best mitigation strategy.

Here we propose to develop this missing fundamental understanding, employing advanced computer simulations—namely Reaction Mechanism Generator (RMG)—based on first-principles kinetics considering the flow and phase behavior in the plant separation section. The simulations will be tested and supplemented with laboratory experiments such as a unique laser flash photolysis and photoionization mass spectrometry apparatus at MIT as well as GCxGC-MS techniques.

Image Attribution:

Image License: