Petrochemicals Industries

Evonik ... catalysts at work in a planta

Evonik ... catalysts at work in a planta

Custom catalysts: Greater flexibility in manufacturing

One of the first catalysts manufactured at the Marl, Germany site, almost 80 years ago, then part of Chemische Werke Hüls, involved a catalyst for the production of butadiene, an important raw material for the production of synthetic rubber

For over 80 years, Evonik’s customers who use fixed-bed catalysts in their processes and facilities have had the option of taking different roads to success.

While some customers supply a complete catalyst production formula and raw materials to set up a long-term provider relationship with Evonik for "their" catalyst, others discover the advantages of permanently transferring their catalyst production to Evonik while bridging a bottleneck in their in-house production.

A third type of customer might provide a laboratory formulation and rely on the know-how and experience of Evonik in the scale-up and large-scale production of the newly developed catalyst, while a fourth may want to develop an optimised catalyst jointly with Evonik for a completely new process.

"We develop and supply suitable catalysts for our customers’ production processes so they can focus on their core business, manufacturing chemicals," says Tim Busse, market segment manager Industrial & Petrochemicals within Evonik’s Catalysts Business Line.

"Thanks to the recent capacity expansion at our German catalyst production site in Marl (North Rhine-Westphalia), which was completed last summer, we now have much greater flexibility, not only for the manufacture of proprietary catalysts and the development of customised systems, but also for completing contract orders at greater speed. Since our customers need to respond promptly to changes in the marketplace, we must offer shorter and faster evaluation and set-up processes for catalyst projects as well. To meet its leadership claim in the area of custom catalysts, Evonik has to implement regular optimisations and investments."

Referring to the Middle East, Iqbal Ansari, business manager, Middle East & North Africa at Evonik Gulf, says: "The main challenge that the Mena region is facing today is declining oil prices which means more efficient production processes are becoming increasingly important in the region. This is where we come in, with Evonik’s catalysis expertise and support we can help our customers to achieve their goal of being more cost-efficient."

Evonik senior vice president and general manager, Dr Steffen Hasenzahl, says: "Evonik is focusing on mega trends such as health and nutrition, resource efficiency and globalisation. Catalysts are a perfect match for Evonik’s portfolio. As one of the leading manufacturers of specialty chemicals, we focus on businesses that offer high value added, and catalysts are the number one generators of added value in the chemical industry."

Every catalyst and catalyst support comes with customised quality controls, which are frequently negotiated in detail. Analytical services, logistics, start-up descriptions for using a catalyst as well as technical assistance for filling the reactor and initiating the system complete the services offered following the actual catalyst production.

In the case of precious metal catalysts, Evonik also offers recycling and precious metal management for the required replacement catalyst at the end of the lifecycle.

Over the years, Evonik has scaled up many laboratory formulations to large-scale technologies, either at customer locations or in close cooperation with customers. Depending on the distribution of roles and tasks, this involved finding and applying suitable business models for both partners.

Cooperation based on trust is the basis for the successful implementation of joint catalyst projects involving customers and Evonik. Both sides must ensure that the respective partner will protect the existing know-how (background know-how) and that proper regulations are in place for handling know-how resulting from the cooperation (foreground know-how). Such know-how can pertain to the catalyst material, but also the catalyst formulation or, if necessary, the ultimate application.

Evonik Legal Services assists with the generation of non-disclosure agreements and cooperation contracts to transparently define the rights and obligations of both partners.

Evonik’s custom catalyst

One of the first catalysts manufactured at the Marl, Germany site, almost 80 years ago, then part of Chemische Werke Hüls, involved a catalyst for the production of butadiene, an important raw material for the production of synthetic rubber.

In the 1950s, the Marl site developed into a petrochemical base materials plant for the production of plastics, surfactants and solvents. It eventually became an industry park for various chemical companies and today is a flagship Evonik production site with the largest number of bulk chemical plants and approximately 10,000 employees.

Working in close cooperation with customers, the site not only produces many specialty items such as high-performance polymers, coatings raw materials and crosslinkers, additives for agrochemicals and polymers as well as plasticisers, but also processes intermediates and develops procedures for recycling valuable raw materials.

From this centre of innovation and tradition, the workers of the catalyst production in Marl today cover the entire process chain from research and development, scale-up, production, quality control, supply chain and logistics as well as application technology.

The expertise of the Marl-based colleagues is not only in demand among customers within the Group, but has been held in high esteem in many production processes of globally active chemical companies in America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and of course, Europe, for over three decades.

Specially assembled teams ensure professional project management for any given task to meet the frequently demanding development targets and time schedules of customers. This could take shape in the development of oxidic catalysts for a novel method to produce ultrapure isobutene or in the continuous further development of a titanium silicalite catalyst for the synthesis of propylene oxide to support the growing demands our customers face with regard to profitability and environmental protection.

Thanks to the expansion of the Marl production plants, Evonik is now in an even better position to implement projects at the triple-digit metric ton scale. The plant was upgraded with additional forming capabilities for granulation, extrusion, and tablet manufacture.

The Marl-based catalyst production also includes mixing stations for solids and liquids, specially designed extruder lines, a continuous drying system, and rotating kiln for calcination at temperatures up to 950 degrees Celsius. Moreover, a newly constructed building now houses a research and development unit, where employees test new formulations at the laboratory scale before transferring them to large-scale production.

The site in Hanau (Hesse), also located in Germany, is a perfect complement to the expertise of the Marl team. The Hanau-Wolfgang Industrial Park has a workforce of approximately 5,300 people, including some 3,500 employees of Evonik Industries.

The Catalysts Business Line produces a comprehensive portfolio of chemical catalysts in this location. In addition to precious metal powder and activated metal catalysts, which are primarily used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical and agrochemical intermediates and final products, Hanau also produces, among other products, mixed oxide and zeolite catalysts. To this end, it features specialised production technologies such as precipitation procedures, hydro-thermal synthesis, spray drying, and vacuum impregnation.

Noblyst E39 catalysts, which have been established for many years for the selective hydrogenation of acetylene to ethylene in the hydrogen chloride recycling stream associated with the production of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), are a typical product example. Ethylene is recycled back to VCM, which not only improves efficiency, but also the quality of the resulting polyvinyl chloride in the long term.


Since flexibility is critical for Catalyst projects, the unit has developed a number of cooperation models for Evonik and its customers. One such project has been in effect in Calvert City, Kentucky (US) for over 15 years, where Evonik manufactures so-called hydro-treating (HDS) catalysts on behalf of an international catalyst company.

The product is used to remove sulphur and nitrogen from crude oil and fuels. For our partner, this has the advantage that the catalysts required in North America can be produced locally. As the trend to greater regulation of sulphur in fuels continues, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) expects an expansion of desulphurisation capacities to up to 4 million barrels per day by 2021 and a further 14 million barrels by 2030.

That will ensure future growth opportunities for the partnership in Calvert City in the production of HDS catalysts.

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