Sumitomo Chemical to establish green process for producing propylene from ethanol

Sumitomo Chemical has begun construction of a pilot facility to establish a process for producing propylene directly from ethanol, which is attracting attention as a sustainable chemical raw material.

The development of this technology is one of the projects supported by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)’s Green Innovation (GI) Fund. The company will work to complete the construction of the pilot facility at the Sodegaura site of its Chiba Works in Japan by 1H25 and step up efforts to quickly implement the technology in society.

Propylene is an essential chemical product. Currently, it is mainly produced by cracking fossil resources, such as naphtha. Ethanol can be produced from biomass, such as sugarcane and corn, and it is anticipated that technology for manufacturing ethanol at scale from combustible waste, waste plastics or CO2 will be established in the near future. Expectations are rising for ethanol as a sustainable essential chemical raw material.

Given these developments, Sumitomo Chemical has newly established a pilot facility to produce ethylene using ethanol as a raw material at its Chiba Works, while it has also been working to develop a proprietary new process to manufacture propylene using ethanol. This process, which is to produce propylene directly from ethanol, has the advantage of being compact and low-cost compared to existing processes that involve multiple intermediates. Additionally, while producing propylene, which enjoys ongoing solid demand, it also generates hydrogen as a by-product at the same time.

Sumitomo Chemical will acquire the necessary data for scaling the process for commercial production from the pilot facility, while also providing samples of polypropylene using the propylene produced in the pilot facility for customer evaluation. The company aims to start commercial production with the new process, as well as licensing of the technology to other companies, by the early 2030s.

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