The availability of ethane and propane at a low cost from shale gas is having a great impact on the chemicals industry in the United States. Ethylene production capacity in the US is rapidly increasing with the addition of new steam crackers. Similarly, on-purpose propylene production by propane dehydrogenation is increasing. Apart from these well-established routes to produce ethylene and propylene, selective oxidation provides the option of a direct route to convert ethane to acetic acid and propane to acrylic acid and acrylonitrile.

The potential benefits of the selective oxidation route are:

  • Direct one-step route with lower capital costs

  • Smaller scale plants can be set up with investments an order of magnitude lower than a cracker.

  • Lower feedstock and energy costs

The ethane to acetic acid process has been commercialized by SABIC and propane ammoxidation to acrylonitrile has been commercialized by Asahi Kasei. However, for widespread commercial adoption, the selective oxidation routes must overcome some key challenges. The recent advancements in these routes based on analysis of patent data, the progress made towards overcoming the challenges and the path forward will be discussed.

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