A team from Saudi Aramco Research and Development Center has developed a novel low-cost, high-octane gasoline blend component it calls SuperButol. SuperButol is made from low-value mixed butenes using a new process the team has named Butenes to Butanol (BTB); it has slightly lower blending RON compared to MTBE but has lower blending vapor pressure and higher energy content compared to ethanol.
It also has an insignificant effect on key gasoline specifications, including potential and actual gum; oxidation stability; intake valve deposits; port fuel injector fouling; haze formation; and water extractability performance. The team suggests that SuperButol is thus a viable and affordable gasoline component, which can help to meet future demands for high-octane gasoline. In addition, the process helps to optimize refinery operations by valorizing low-value products. The team describes SuperButol in a paper in the journal Fuel.
Knock, an abnormal combustion phenomenon, is the primary constraint on the efficiency of spark ignition (SI) engines. As engine designers strive for higher efficiency SI engines, pressure will build up to increase the anti-knock or octane quality of gasolines in the future. This poses challenges for refineries and high-octane blending components will enable the fuel manufacturers to provide suitable fuels for future engines. Oxygenates such as ethanol and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), are known for their resistance to knock and are used as gasoline blending components to increase octane number In addition, ethanol can be made from bio sources and is considered as a renewable fuel component. It is mandated for use in gasoline in many countries. MTBE is made from methanol and isobutylene-methanol itself can be produced from natural gas or coal while isobutylene is derived either from natural gas or from by-products of fluid catalytic and steam crackers.
… In this paper, we introduce a new high octane gasoline blending component, SuperButol, which is mainly a mixture of different isomers of butanol with small amounts of di-isobutylenes (DIB) and is made from mixed butenes which have low economic value in the refinery and low octane rating for the engine. This blending component could be used on its own or with other octane boosters such as MTBE. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated the potential of using alternative octane boosters, such as SuperButol in less processed fuels in order to reach the same anti-knock properties as a commercial high-octane fuel.—Kalamaras et al.
Butenes are olefinic hydrocarbon gases; currently, refineries use mixed butenes resulting from cracking operations as a feedstock to produce intermediates for chemicals. Some of these techniques for processing mixed butenes are costly, and corrosive, the team notes.
By contrast, the SuperButanol production process—“Butenes to Butanols” (BTB)—is simple and safe, and was successfully demonstrated in a large capacity pilot plant.
Hydration and dimerization reactions occur in a fixed bed reactor at 10–70 bar and 100–170 ˚C using a sulfonated ion exchange resin catalyst with a water-to-hydrocarbon ratio in the range of 1–10 vol%. Overall single pass conversion is 14 vol%. Unreacted butenes are recycled to the reactor until all the butenes are converted to the isomers of butanols and iso-octane.
The SuperButol product as obtained mainly comprises 2-Butanol (63.9%) and tert-Butanol (29.0%). The Saudi Aramco team assessed the blend properties of SuperButol by blending it into gasoline at different concentrations.
This product has very good anti-knock qualities and can be used to increase both RON and sensitivity of a gasoline. It has higher volumetric energy content and leads to lower vapor pressure in blends compared to those containing either ethanol or MTBE, which increases blending flexibility. SuperButol can also increase the refinery revenues by enabling the blending of low value pentanes into the gasoline pool at an acceptable vapor pressure. Its oxidation stability, gum and deposit formation tendencies are similar to those of MTBE. In terms of haze formation and water extractability performance, it is better than ethanol and butanol and should pose no handling problems provided suitable precautions are taken. As a result, SuperButol could provide another practical and affordable option to produce higher octane gasolines in the future.—Kalamaras et al.
Christos Kalamaras, Kareemuddin Shaik, Gautam Kalghatgi, Hassan Babiker, Abdulkarim Alsamah, David McLeary, Wei Xu (2017) “SuperButol – A novel high-octane gasoline blending component,” Fuel, Volume 195, Pages 165-173 doi: 10.1016/j.fuel.2017.01.062