To produce natural detergent alcohols from fatty acids using esterification, hydrogenolysis and refining.
Fatty acids are fed to the esterification section (1) where they are esterified to methyl esters in a reactive distillation column. Water released by this reaction is removed by excess methanol, which is treated in a methanol purification column. This column produces a clean water effluent and recycles methanol to the reactive distillation column. Methyl esters are fed to a low-pressure, vapor-phase hydrogenation section (2) where the esters are vaporized into a circulating hydrogen stream followed by conversion to fatty alcohol over a fixed catalyst bed. Crude alcohol product is condensed, and the gas is re-circulated with a low-head centrifugal compressor.
Crude alcohol passes to the refining section (3) where low levels of residual methyl esters are converted to wax esters and recycled to the hydrogenation section (2). A refining column removes light and heavy impurities, and the refined fatty alcohol product is polished to convert any residual carbonyls to alcohols.
Licensor: Davy Process Technology, UK