Oil demand vs oil reserves: what of chemical industry?

In the past decade the world has experienced a widening gap between the predicted demand for oil and known oil reserves. The rapid increase in consumption, fuelled particularly by the growth of new economies like China and India, has lead to unprecedented oil price increases; High oil price may particularly affect the competitiveness of the chemical industry in Europe, which relies for more than 70% on imported oil. 


In a global environment with higher cost of naphtha from crude oil and higher cost of CO2, chemical industry may need to turn to novel feeds such as natural gas, coal and biomass to remain competitive. An important break-through in chemicals production would be to open new direct routes with rarely used, less reactive raw feedstocks such as short-chain alkanes and CO2. In addition to reducing the chemical industry’s current dependency on naphtha, using these feedstocks would contribute to reducing the energy use and environmental footprint of industry.

Technologies that are able to use light alkanes (C1 – C4) and CO2 as feedstocks are thus needed. However, light alkanes and CO2, in contrast to long‐chain hydrocarbons from oil, are stable molecules: they are difficult to activate and transform directly and selectively to added-value products.

Membrane technology to the rescue

Innovating chemical processes are thus essential for the future of the chemical industry to make use of alternative feedstocks in the medium and long term future.

The past decade has seen an increase in demonstration of novel membrane technology. Carbon-capture related technologies and fuel cells have speeded up research on various types of membranes: membrane technology has successfully been brought out of the laboratory. Hydrogen membrane reactors have been demonstrated by KTI and Tokyo Gas, while the European AZEP project for zero emission power plants and Air Products in the US have demonstrated the use of dense conducting membranes. Such developments are leading to a strong industrial interest in developing membrane reactors for the chemical industry.



CARENA’s Objectives


Light alkanes (C1–C4) and CO2 are stable molecules which are difficult to activate and transform directly and selectively to added-value products. These challenges could be overcome thanks to relevant Process Intensification (PI) along with the smart implementation of catalytic membrane reactors.

The strong consortium of European industries and research structures brought together by the CARENA project will address the key issues required to pave the way to marketing CMRs in the European chemical industry.


8 Work Packages


Key success factors for CARENA are the creation and use of fundamental material innovations, the focus on applications, the management of project risks and a well balanced IP management. The project has thus been structured into 8 Work Packages:

  WP1, WP2 and WP3 are application-oriented with industrial end-users and technology providers
      as WP leaders;

  WP4, WP5 and WP6 are transversal and address fundamental and cross-cutting issues.

  ► WP7 on dissemination includes IP management, while WP8 deals with the project's overall managem



                                                                    WP list


You'll find below a diagram highlighting CARENA’s interdependences and complementary activities:



CARENA's Expected Output - Feedstocks & valuable products targeted by CARENA


CARENA focuses on the activation of three specific primary feedstocks: methane, propane and CO2.
The integrated scheme of processes is shown below. The main routes are:


1. Indirect and direct routes for conversion of methane into methanol and olefins

2. (Oxidative) dehydrogenation of propane and subsequent selective oxidation of propylene in a propane/propylene mixture to acrylic acid.

3. Direct conversion of CO2 into dimethyl carbonate (DMC) and methanol (MeOH).


feedstocksdiagram.png   hhhhhhhh

                                                   Feedstocks & valuable products targeted by CARENA


The selected feedstocks can be converted into a broad range of chemicals and fuels:

      ► Ethylene and propylene  targeted as the 2 mayor chemicals;

      ► Replication potential, for example by using CARENA results to develop new processes for other oxygenates
            or by potential wide-scale use of hydrogen CMRs.


      ► Redundancy to reduce risk. E.g. the project targets the limiting steps in three completely different routes from
            alkanes toward propylene: from propane, from syngas through methanol or by direct methanol from natural
            gas and e.g. subsequent MTO).
      ► Both chemicals and fuels (DMC and MeOH) are potential products.



CARENA's Benefits to European Chemical Industry


  Create new possibilities to use cheaper, less reactive raw materials. 

  Reduce process risks thanks to the use of the new &/or more efficiently integrated processes.

Reduce environmental impact: less energy & raw materials used thanks to increased process selectivity, innovative process flow schemes and a reduced number of process steps.


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