UPenn Discovers Cheap Alternative to Steam Cracking Ethane

When huge ethane crackers like the proposed Shell cracker in Beaver County, PA use steam to “split” or “crack” ethane to form ethylene (the raw material used to make plastics), it takes a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of “leftover” energy and leftover carbon dioxide (CO2). As the mythology goes, more CO2 in the atmosphere leads to global warming (if you believe in that sort of thing). Scientists have long known of other ways to convert “heavier” hydrocarbons, like ethane, into “lighter” hydrocarbons, like ethylene, using metals via a chemical process. But the metals used are rare and expensive–things like rhodium, ruthenium and iridium. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say they have found a way to use cheaper, more abundant metals, like titanium, to transform natural gas, ethane and other hydrocarbons into more useful chemicals like ethylene. The big bonus? No leftover CO2 to worry about…

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