Supercritical Water Assisted Zeolite Catalyzed Upgrading of Hydrocarbons
Previous studies have successfully used near and supercritical water (SCW) for cracking and desulfurization of heavy crude oil and bio-oil, suppressing coke formation as a low-value by-product. Some of these studies benefited from using zeolite catalysts to increase the activity and selectivity toward targeted products; however, in depth studies are required to identify the role of water on zeolite catalysis under supercritical condition. Using three common zeolites, ZSM-5, HY, and β for supercritical water cracking of dodecane at 400°C, 24±2 MPa (in a 100 ml batch reactor), we showed that ZSM-5 is the only catalyst that partially retains its crystalline structure and activity under hydrothermal conditions. Further characterization of the ZSM-5 (used under 50/50 wt% SCW/dodecane feed) revealed 95% decrease in Brønsted acid site (BAS) density and 80% decrease in microporous area after 2 h reaction time. However, compared to the runs where SCW was absent, the apparent dodecane cracking rate constant in SCW decreased only by a factor of 2.6. Examining catalytic activity of ZSM-5 degradation products and re-using ZSM-5 showed that the unexpected activity cannot be ascribed to ZSM-5 degradation products. Using a group-type model, we showed that SCW accelerated gas and suppressed coke formations. Additionally a coke gasification pathway was suggested to account for formation of CO and CO2 in the presence of SCW. Additional experiments with two different ZSM-5 particle sizes suggested that dodecane cracking reaction is diffusion-limited in the absence of SCW and reaction-limited in its presence. Zero length chromatography of calcined and hydrothermally treated ZSM-5 showed 10 times greater apparent diffusivity for un-treated catalyst. This, according to Weisz-Prater analysis, suggested a 250 times greater dodecane surface concentration in the absence of SCW. We successfully optimized the water content of feed (5-15 wt%) to decrease the destructive effects of SCW on the structure, increase the selectivity toward BTEX products and eliminate coke formation.