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Demonstration of the industrial viability of a new chemistry to produce eco-friendly solvents from nylon chain wastes

Reference: LIFE09 ENV/FR/000594 | Acronym: IRIS

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

The use of solvents is both toxic and emits volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere. Among the major consumers of solvents are the paint-stripping, phyto-sanitary chemicals and industrial cleaning and degreasing sectors. Modern alternatives are available that are safer and more CO2-efficient, but not necessarily practical for industrial use. Examples are bioesters, which are produced by chemical reactions between vegetable/animal oils and alcohol (methanol). Rhodiasolv IRIS is a new alternative produced from the transformation of waste from polyamide-66 (nylon). This safe and easily recycled alternative has been registered and used on a pilot scale since 2008. By avoiding the (previously standard) incineration of the nylon waste, the pilot commercial development saves 25 000 tonnes/yr of CO2. However, the existing production process for Rhodiasolv IRIS was not able to match the potential demand of several tens of thousands of tonnes. In addition, it generated large quantities of salts and had high energy and raw material requirements.


OBJECTIVES

The IRIS project aimed to demonstrate the industrial-scale feasibility of an innovative catalytic chemical process to convert co-products of the polyamide-66 nylon chain into the new eco-friendly and safe solvent Rhodiasolv IRIS, which is readily biodegradable, non-VOC, non-toxic, non-carcinogenic and non-irritant. The project would develop and implement a continuous prototype and pilot simulation of the new catalytic chemical process. This would demonstrate that it could be practically implemented at industrial scale to produce up to 60 000 tonnes/yr of Rhodiasolv IRIS by 2020.

The catalytic chemical production of the new solvent was expected to save 1.4 tonnes of sulphuric acid per tonne of solvent and 1.3 tonnes of ammonium sulphate per tonne of solvent. It would also re-use 0.8 tonnes of previously incinerated raw material per tonne of solvent, thereby reducing emissions of ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Production of the safer end product was forecast to lead to the eventual industrial-scale replacement of toxic or carcinogenic solvents such as n-methyl-pyrrolidone, di-chloromethane, trichloroethylene or perchloroethylene, as well as highly volatile and VOC-contributing solvents like acetone and aromatic solvents. In addition, IRIS’s new process could allow industries to cut the solvent-production cost by 50%, and thus favour industrial investment in the creation of high-capacity eco-friendly solvent production.

Expected results were:

  • Demonstration of industrial-scale feasibility of eco-friendly solvent production;
  • Reduced consumption of sulphuric acid and ammonium sulphate;
  • Demonstration of a use for waste from the polyamide-66 nylon chain;
  • Reduced GHG emissions; and
  • The longer-term replacement of environmentally damaging solvents in industrial use.

  • RESULTS

    The IRIS project successfully demonstrated the technically viability of an innovative catalytic chemical process to convert co-products of the polyamide-66 nylon chain into the new environmentally-friendly and safe solvent Rhodiasolv®IRIS. The chemical process developed included two steps (Hydrolysis followed by Esterification) that were each validated and optimised to confirm effective operating conditions using two prototype pilots.

    Extrapolation studies were used to scale-up and design the main industrial equipment. A life-cycle analysis (LCA) was also carried out to compare the environmental outcome of the new IRIS process with the current process, as well as with the production of other solvents. The LCA clearly showed that the new process had a much better environmental performance compared with the process currently used. Four criteria were studied: global warming potential, human health, non renewable energy and aquatic ecosystem.

    However, despite these encouraging results, the new process will not be developed at the industrial scale in the medium term. The main reason is that the economic conditions for the industrial phase are not fulfilled at the moment, in particular the sales expectations are not high enough.

    The prototype developed in the project could only produce up to 10 kg/hour. It was not designed as a semi-industrial unit. A productive prototype costs about 10 times more than the prototype used in the project. This larger scale test was considered to necessary in order to convince production plants that the technology was adequately proven, and could be commercially competitive. Consequently, and for confidentiality reasons, communication actions were limited and this has a negative impact on the demonstration value of the project findings.

    The future development of an industrial production process for this new "green" solvent would be fully in line with the Council Directive 1999/13/EC of 11 March 1999 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations and also with the REACH Regulation (EC 1907/2006) as it would limit the production and use of other solvents which are dangerous for the environment and for human health.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).

    The IRIS project successfully demonstrated the technically viability of an innovative catalytic chemical process to convert co-products of the polyamide-66 nylon chain into the new environmentally-friendly and safe solvent Rhodiasolv®IRIS. The chemical process developed included two steps (Hydrolysis followed by Esterification) that were each validated and optimised to confirm effective operating conditions using two prototype pilots.

    Extrapolation studies were used to scale-up and design the main industrial equipment. A life-cycle analysis (LCA) was also carried out to compare the environmental outcome of the new IRIS process with the current process, as well as with the production of other solvents. The LCA clearly showed that the new process had a much better environmental performance compared with the process currently used. Four criteria were studied: global warming potential, human health, non renewable energy and aquatic ecosystem.

    However, despite these encouraging results, the new process will not be developed at the industrial scale in the medium term. The main reason is that the economic conditions for the industrial phase are not fulfilled at the moment, in particular the sales expectations are not high enough.

    The prototype developed in the project could only produce up to 10 kg/hour. It was not designed as a semi-industrial unit. A productive prototype costs about 10 times more than the prototype used in the project. This larger scale test was considered to necessary in order to convince production plants that the technology was adequately proven, and could be commercially competitive. Consequently, and for confidentiality reasons, communication actions were limited and this has a negative impact on the demonstration value of the project findings.

    The future development of an industrial production process for this new "green" solvent would be fully in line with the Council Directive 1999/13/EC of 11 March 1999 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations and also with the REACH Regulation (EC 1907/2006) as it would limit the production and use of other solvents which are dangerous for the environment and for human health.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).

    ADMINISTRATIVE DATA


    Reference: LIFE09 ENV/FR/000594
    Acronym: IRIS
    Start Date: 01/09/2010
    End Date: 31/03/2014
    Total Eligible Budget: 2,138,272 €
    EU Contribution: 1,053,086 €
    Project Location:

    CONTACT DETAILS


    Coordinating Beneficiary: RHODIA Operations
    Legal Status: PCO
    Address: 40, Rue de la Haie Coq, 93300, Aubervilliers, France
    Contact Person: François-Xavier DU MESNIL
    Email: Send Email
    Website:


    LIFE Project Map

    ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ADDRESSED

    THEMES

    • Air pollutants
    • GHG reduction in EU ETS sectors
    • Cleaner technologies
    • Chemicals

    KEYWORDS

    • emission reduction
    • building material
    • chemical industry
    • greenhouse gas
    • volatile organic compound

    TARGET EU LEGISLATION

    • Directive 1999/13 - Limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations (11.03.1999)
    • "Regulation 1907/2006 - Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) (18.12.2006) "

    BENEFICIARIES

    Name Type
    RHODIA Operations Coordinator
    None Participant

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