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Axens, Total and IFPEN launch new technology for bio-ethylene production through dehydration of bio-ethanol

Axens, Total and IFPEN have introduced Atol, a technology for profitable production of polymer-grade bio-ethylene via the dehydration of ethanol (C2H6O). (Earlier post.) About 99% of ethylene (C2H4) is currently produced by steam cracking of naphtha. The bio-ethylene produced can be integrated in existing downstream polymerization installations such as polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS), polyethyleneteraphthalate (PET), polyvinylchloride (PVC) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) without need for modifications.

In a 2013 review of technologies for the dehydration of ethanol to ethylene, published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemical Research, Minhua Zhang and Yingzhe Yu of Tianjin University Research and Development Center for Petrochemical Technology noted that:

Ethylene is one of the largest chemical products in the world, and also one of the most important raw materials in the petrochemical industry. At present, about 75% of petrochemical products are produced from ethylene, including acetaldehyde, acetic acid, ethylene oxide, ethylene glycol, ethylbenzene, chloroethanol, vinyl chloride, styrene, ethylene dichloride, and vinyl acetate, etc.; it can also be used as a polymerization raw material to produce a variety of important organic chemical products such as polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and so on. Ethylene production has been considered as one of the indicators to measure the petrochemical development level of countries all over the world.

… The development level of the ethylene industry is one of the important indicators to measure the economic power of a country, and plays a vital role in the national economic development. That petroleum resources are becoming increasingly strained restricts the development of the ethylene industry. The development and utilization of various non-petroleum raw materials producing ethylene have drawn extensive attention of the countries. The process of ethanol to ethylene has broad development prospects and has great significance for promoting the economy development. Compared with the process of petroleum to ethylene, ethanol dehydration to ethylene is economically feasible.

Atol is the result of a partnership between Total, IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN) and its affiliate Axens that started in 2011. Within this cooperation, Total developed a high performance catalyst formulation at its research Center in Feluy, Belgium; IFPEN scaled up catalyst performance within a heat recovery innovative process; and Axens industrialized the catalyst formulation and finalized the process scheme with particular focus on energy-efficiency.

Total and IFPEN are the co-owners of the technology and Axens is now in charge of commercializing Atol by providing all process licensing related services and catalyst manufacturing.

The partners believe Atol to be the most advanced dehydration technology and features the highest profitability as a result of:

  • Lower capex by simplified product purification brought on by the performance of the ATO 201 catalyst which exhibits a high activity and selectivity towards ethylene;

  • The robustness of the catalyst which copes with any variation in feedstock quality;

  • The highly integrated process scheme which greatly reduces operating costs; and

  • The significant potential to be integrated with both upstream ethanol production and downstream ethylene conversion.

Atol is the first of a series of technologies for the production of other olefinic monomers by processing bio-derived higher alcohols to be developed in parallel based on Atol’s technology platform.


  • Minhua Zhang and Yingzhe Yu (2013) “Dehydration of Ethanol to Ethylene,” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 52 (28), 9505-9514 doi: 10.1021/ie401157c


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