New UOP/CEPSA Detal-Plus™ Process Technology for the Production of Linear Alkylbenzene (LAB)

By: Gary A Peterson

UOP is the world’s leading supplier of LAB process technology and its commercial experience is unmatched, with more than 90% of global LAB production capacity being based on UOP technology. UOP is committed to the continued advancement of LAB technology in order to improve the profitability of LAB producers by lowering OPEX and CAPEX. The most significant change in LAB process technology in recent years has been the development of the Detal™ Process for solid bed alkylation. The Detal process was jointly developed by UOP and CEPSA Quimica and successfully commercialized in 1995. Prior to this development, LAB producers used alkylation technology that relied upon liquid homogeneous catalyst systems based on either hydrofluoric acid or aluminum chloride, both of which presented challenging operating/handling concerns. These concerns were eliminated by the solid bed catalyst system of the Detal Process. Since its introduction, the Detal process has accounted for over 75% of new LAB capacity additions. The advancement of UOP’s LAB production technology continues today with the introduction of the new UOP/CEPSA Detal-Plus process.

The new Detal-Plus process incorporates transalkylation into the highly successful Detal process. In transalkylation, heavy alkylate (HAB) byproduct is trans-alkylated with benzene to form additional LAB product. Up to a 5% increase in LAB production can be realized with no increase in paraffin/olefin feed input. The resulting LAB (and LAS) is comparable in quality to LAB produced in the Detal Process. This is important since changes in LAB quality can lead to requalification of LAB with the end users. As part of the development effort, CEPSA conducted extensive testing of LAS produced in the TA unit at CEPSA Becancour Detal plant to determine physical properties, biodegradation, and aquatic toxicity of LAB produced in Detal-Plus configuration. The transalkylation system is a very simple design and consists of reactor vessel, a pump, and heat exchange for temperature control.

The key advantage of Detal-Plus for a new LAB complex in the 5% lower normal paraffin requirement. The lower normal paraffin requirements reduces the size of upstream units in an LAB complex (KHT/Molex/Pacol/DeFine/PEP) which in turn reduces CAPEX, catalyst fill requirements, and utilities (by 5%).

The key advantage of Detal-Plus for an existing Detal Unit is the ability to increase LAB production by 5% without increasing the normal paraffin requirement. A small amount of additional benzene is required for the trans-alkylation reaction, but the benzene:LAB consumption ratio remains the same. The capital investment is also small. The attractiveness of implementing transalkylation in existing Detal units is heavily influence by the HAB-LAB price spread.

HAB transalkylation has been successfully incorporated into the Detal Unit at CEPSA Quimica’s Becancour, Quebec plant. Commercial scale operations commenced in July 2009. Properties of the LAB and HAB produced with transalkylation in operation are comparable to those of materials produced over the last two years at the Becancour plant. Based on these results, the Detal-Plus process commercialization has been proven a success and the technology is now ready for sale today.

Read more articles from the summer 2011 edition of Tech & More