December 2011

Special Report: Plant Design and Engineering

Optimize capacity for large ethylene oxide reactors

Many factors must be considered in fine-tuning unit design

Crudge, B., Billig, B., Schneider, R., Scientific Design Co.

Ethylene oxide (EO) is an important chemical intermediate, with annual global consumption of approximately 30 million tpy. Most of the EO is hydrolyzed to produce ethylene glycol (EG), but other important products are also made from EO, including ethanolamines, glycol ethers and various ethoxylates. EO is produced commercially via a vapor-phase reaction of ethylene and oxygen over a silver-based catalyst. This reaction is exothermic, and the unselective reaction to complete combustion is even more so. Conversion must be kept low to ensure high selectivity to EO. Accordingly, heat must be removed from the reacting process gas efficiently within the reactor to allow good control at low conv

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