After a preliminary thermodynamic investigation, proper operating conditions have been selected to maximise ethylene productivity by ethanol dehydration and limit side products such as coke and higher olefins or oxygenates. We focused on the possibility to operate with a diluted bioethanol solution (ca. 50 wt%), which represents a promising and convenient raw material, obtainable by simple flash concentration of the fermentation broth. Furthermore, water addition to the ethanol dehydration reactor may help preventing catalyst coking and diethyl ether formation, although affecting the thermodynamic products distribution. A proof of concept for an ethanol dehydration process using diluted ethanol is also provided through process simulation. Catalysts based on a BEA zeolite have been compared, characterised by different acidity imparted by dealumination treatments. Ni addition in variable loading helped suppressing undesired byproducts, difficult to separate from ethylene. For instance, no trace of diethyl ether nor acetaldehyde has been observed for the Ni-loaded samples under optimised working conditions. Catalyst characterisation by FT IR allowed correlating a high selectivity to ethylene with the acid sites nature of the catalyst, whereas the presence of extraframework Lewis acidic sites induced faster coke formation. Durability was finally checked on the most active and selective catalyst evidencing stable operation for 80 h-on-stream and without evidence of coke deposition, as determined after characterisation of the spent samples. A γ-Al2O3 catalyst has been tested as benchmark under the same conditions.
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