Structure optimization of task-specific ionic liquids targeting low-carbon-emission ethylbenzene production

Yang Lei, Zhaoyang Yu, Zhiqiang Wei, Xinyan Liu*, Haoshui Yu, Xiaodong Liang, Georgios M. Kontogeorgis, Yuqiu Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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The production of ethylbenzene from dry gas is a representative of an energy-intensive process in oil refineries, and the distillation process accounts for the major energy consumption and carbon emissions. Due to the increasing energy and environmental challenges, there is a strong demand for new technologies or intensified process designs that enable us to have energy-efficient and sustainable process operations. In this work, an ionic liquid (IL)-based energy-efficient extractive distillation (ED) process with low carbon emission is proposed for the distillation process of ethylbenzene production from dry gas. First, the structure of task-specific ILs is optimized through the computer-aided IL design (CAILD) method with a novel design objective. An ammonium-based IL ethylammonium trifluoromethanesulfonate ([C2H8N][TfO]), that has the best objective performance, is identified by solving a mixed-integer nonlinear programming (MINLP) problem. The energy, environmental (carbon emission), and economic performance of this [C2H8N][TfO]-based ED process in the ethylbenzene production is then thoroughly evaluated on the basis of optimized process operations in Aspen Plus. For demonstration purposes, a case study for the separation process of an industrial-scale ethylbenzene production in a Chinese refining industry is performed. When compared to the conventional process that is currently used in the petrochemical industry, our proposed [C2H8N][TfO]-based ED separation process has 40% energy (hot utility) savings and a 11% cost reduction. Notably, the IL-based ED separation process has 40% lower carbon emissions versus the conventional process, indicating its great potential for sustainable operation in the production of ethylbenzene from dry gas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122827
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Carbon emission
  • Ethylbenzene production
  • Extractive distillation
  • Ionic liquid


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