April 2014

Columns

HP Petrochemicals: Coal re-emerges as a primary petrochemical feedstock

Coal-to-chemicals routes are now an important and viable option for producers in China and beyond. Those that look upon them as atavistic dinosaurs do so at their peril.

Velson, J., Nexant Consulting

Coal was, historically, a critical resource in the infancy of the organic chemical industry. Among many other applications, coal tar provided aromatics, and coal syngas was used for ammonia and methanol production. The invention of the electric-arc furnace allowed coal-based calcium carbide to unleash a wealth of early acetylene-based production of butadiene, vinyl acetate, vinyl chloride and acetaldehyde. While the modern petrochemical industry’s development largely shifted away from coal as cheaper feedstocks emerged, coal is once again re-emerging as a high-value hydrocarbon feedstock, as shown in Fig. 1.     Fig. 1. Petrochemicals that can be derived from

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