Evonik produces bioMTBE with material refined from crude glycerin
While petroleum-based methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) has largely been replaced with ethanol as a gasoline additive in the U.S. due to environmental concerns of groundwater contamination, Evonik recently announced it has been producing commercial volumes of a biobased version of the antiknock agent using an ingredient refined from crude glycerin, a coproduct of the biodiesel production process. Rainer Fretzen, the head of Evonik’s performance intermediates business line, said Evonik’s bioMTBE is “the only commercially available, next-generation biofuel component for gasoline in Germany.”
Evonik produces its bioMTBE from isobutene and biobased methanol. Horst-Oliver Buchholz told Biodiesel Magazine that Evonik does not produce the biomethanol itself, but rather the chemical firm buys the glycerin-derived product from the market to manufacture bioMTBE alongside conventional MTBE at its factory in Marl, Germany. The company said because the biomethanol is made from raw glycerin, it is classified as a waste product according to the EU Renewable Energy Directive, thereby doubling its value for determining bioenergy content. “That makes bioMTBE a promising option for fuel manufacturers looking to meet EU specifications for biofuel use and CO2 reduction,” stated Evonik in a press release that was issued earlier this month.
The biobased product has the same technical advantages as its conventional counterpart, according to Evonik, including high energy density (86 percent of gasoline), low vapor pressure, low oxygen content, and very low solubility in water. Evonik also said bioMTBE can be handled safely in refineries and storage tanks, and the product can be transported via pipeline.
To date, the product is primarily being sold in Germany and the Netherlands, but implementation of EU directives in other member states could grow the business. If needed, Evonik said it could shift full capacity of its plant, scaled at 550,000 metric tons per year, over to production of bioMTBE.