New proprietary research by BCC Research reveals that rapid industrialisation and expansion of refining and polymer manufacturing companies in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to propel growth of catalysts in the industry.
BCC Research’s Refinery Catalysts reports that the global demand (volume) for refinery catalysts, which totalled 2,019 metric kilotons in 2016, should reach 2,234.3 metric kilotons by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate of two percent from 2016 to 2021.
Low labour costs and rising manufacturing investment in Asia-Pacific is expected to attract more market players into catalyst business. Increasing oil and gas exploration activities are expected to increase demand for catalysts in the Middle East and Latin America. Among precious metals, palladium is expected to achieve the fastest growth.
“Synthetic zeolites are the most commonly used catalyst material, owing to its affordable cost,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, BCC Research editorial director. “However, increasing demand for natural zeolite due to its environmental benefits and decreasing product cost is likely to promote market growth over the next few years,” added Fitzgerald.
Increasing demand for polymers
Polymer manufacturing is the third-largest end-user industry for refinery catalysts. Polymerisation catalyst components are an essential part of the catalyst system used as activator to accelerate the reaction, which produces a polymer. Asia-Pacific is the major market for polymerisation catalysts, followed by North America and Europe.
“Rapid industrialisation and expansion of refining and polymer manufacturing companies in the region is expected to propel growth of catalysts in the industry,” noted Fitzgerald.
“Refinery catalysts are an integral part of the polymerisation process of a monomer with a carbon-carbon double bond. In chain reaction polymerisation, a catalyst used is generally a free radical from organic peroxide. The segment is expected to witness significant growth, owing to increasing demand for high-quality plastics,” concluded Fitzgerald.
Sustainable catalyst for petroleum refineries
It is interesting to mention here that Clariant, on 21 March 2017, launched PolyMax 850, a high-performance, sustainable catalyst for petroleum refineries. The new phosphoric acid catalyst increases polygasoline, nonene and tetramer yields at lower operating temperatures, thus reducing costs and boosting productivity. Compared to previous generations of the PolyMax series, the new catalyst offers an even longer service life, helping to minimise waste in the fuel upgrading process.
Reutilisation already occurs with almost 65 percent of all spent PolyMax catalysts, helping to reduce the consumption of phosphate rock in the production of phosphorus. Clariant actively works with international partners to further increase recycling rates with the aim of achieving complete lifecycle management for PolyMax series catalysts.
Stefan Heuser, senior vice president and general manager, business unit catalysts, Clariant, stated, “Due to fluctuations in crude oil prices, the fuel industry is seeking more effective and efficient ways to produce high quality fuels. PolyMax 850 presents a powerful solution. It increases yields and quality, while reducing emissions and waste.”
In addition to supplying leading catalyst products, Clariant’s catalysts business unit offers customers comprehensive service regarding the use of its catalysts. Dedicated support begins with providing process information during the initial stages of plant design and construction, includes start-up assistance when the plant is placed on stream, and continues with follow-up maintenance to ensure optimum operating performance of catalysts.
World's first integrally moulded catalyst
Meanwhile, in an interesting development, Toyota Motor Corporation announced on 22 February 2017 the commercial availability of a new, smaller catalyst that uses 20 percent less precious metal in approximately 20 percent less volume, while maintaining the same exhaust gas purification performance. Innovative design and manufacturing technologies have allowed for the mass production of the new catalyst, which will gradually be installed in new vehicle models, starting from the Lexus LC500h later this year.
As such, with this development, approximately 20 percent less precious metal is used in a more compact catalyst that contains approximately 20 percent less volume, while maintaining the same exhaust gas purification performance as that of conventional catalysts. The newly developed innovative design and manufacturing technologies have also allowed for the mass production of the world’s first integrally moulded catalyst.
Currently, the most commonly used substrate in exhaust gas purifying catalysts for gasoline engines is made of ceramic (cordierite), which utilises a honeycomb structure consisting of square or hexagonal cells.
The walls of cells within this substrate are wash-coated with catalytic materials, like platinum (Pt), rhodium (Rh), palladium (Pd) and other precious metals.
This provides a catalytic effect, where through oxidation-reduction, harmful gases such as carbon monoxide (CO), unburned hydrocarbons (HC), and nitrogen oxide (NOx) are purified within the exhaust to help make them safe.
While conventional catalysts have a uniform cell cross-sectional area, the newly developed FLAD® (Flow Adjustable Design Cell) substrate has a structure with a different cell cross-sectional area at the inner portion compared to that at the outer portion. Toyota has succeeded in mass producing this substrate with the world’s first design and manufacturing technology that is able to integrally mould the catalyst.
Uniform exhaust gas flow within the catalysts installed in exhaust pipes enables the wash-coated precious metals and other catalytic materials to effectively purify the exhaust gas.
However, the use of conventional substrates with uniform cell cross-sectional area results in an unbalanced flow of exhaust gas because the flow of gas through the inner portion of the catalyst is faster, and at a higher volume than that through the outer portion.
As a result, more catalytic precious metal is required at the inner portion of the catalyst, where the flowrate is greater, in order to maintain purification performance. Current catalytic material wash-coating technologies require all cell walls to be coated equally during the wash-coating process, so parts of the catalyst with a lower exhaust gas flowrate are coated with the same amount of catalytic precious metals as those parts, which have a higher flowrate.
Going forward, Toyota remains committed to working actively with its group companies and related business partners to further develop catalyst technologies that will help to achieve cleaner exhaust gas with reduced usage of precious metals.