CHE Seminars  

Speaker Prof. Eric McFarland
University of California at Santa Barbara
Topic An Integrated Bromine Mediated Process for Methane Conversion to Gasoline
Date 13 January 2010 (Wednesday)
Place L-10, Lecture Hall Complex
4.15 to 5.15 p.m.

Methane will remain abundant from both fossil resources and renewable biological sources into the foreseeable future. A chemical process “platform” for the selective partial oxidation of methane and other
alkanes based upon use of bromine for C-H bond activation and novel process steps for bromine recovery and reuse. The overall alkane conversion occurs in a three-step process involving, i) bromination under bromine limiting concentrations, ii) reaction of alkylbromide intermediates to form products, and iii) recovery of the bromine with a catalyst/metal oxide solid reactant. The process does not utilize a synthesis gas intermediate and is tolerant to common methane contaminants including high concentrations of carbon dioxide present in biomethane. Process optimization and reaction engineering allows us to use relatively non-selective thermal bromination at modest temperatures ~ 400 C for methane activation with
conversions in excess of 75%. Methyl-Br has many reactivity features in common with Methyl-OH and thus the wide variety of products available with methanol feeds (e.g. MTO, MTP, MTG) can also be made with methyl bromide. The molecular weight of the alkylbromides provide a chemical handle for ease of separation. Use of adiabatic reactors and other process options allow minimization of the requirements for costly structures with expensive metallurgy though proper choice of the materials of construction is critical.
A key feature of the process is the potential use of a solid-reactant for recovery of the bromine that minimizes bromine or hydrobromic acid inventories and facilitates efficient recovery of the halogen. Bromine
has fundamental advantages over chlorine and advanced reactor designs utilizing moving or switched bed zone reactors offer significant process cost reduction options. Preliminary engineering-economic models and pilot facility operation show the process to have particular promise as a commercial route to production of liquid transportation fuels from biomethane derived from byproducts of existing commercial processes.

Eric McFarland holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from U.C. Berkeley in Nuclear Engineering. Following a residency in General Surgery, he joined the Nuclear Engineering faculty at MIT then moved to the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara. McFarland has developed a number of technologies related to the chemical industry and served as a founding technical director for Symyx Technologies (NASDAQ: SMMX). He has published over 130 scientific papers and holds over 35 U.S. and foreign patents. Presently, McFarland is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at U.C. Santa Barbara, and the President and C.E.O. for GRT, Inc. a Santa Barbara based technology start-up company developing advanced technology for conversion of natural gas to fuels and chemicals ( McFarland’s research activities are focused on coupling fundamental chemical processes at surfaces with novel material systems for applications to the production and interconversion of fuels and energy.