Published November 2014
Acetic acid development in recent years has focused on incremental improvements to existing versions of methanol carbonylation, though alternatives have also been proposed. The Celanese and BP CATIVA commercial routes, examples of “low water” processes, have largely supplanted the original “high water” carbonylation process devised by Monsanto, which in turn replaced acetaldehyde/oxidation-based routes. SABIC and Showa Denko have both devised oxidation routes that seek to make oxidation economical again, and Chiyoda has offered a heterogeneously catalyzed version of methanol carbonylation. Celanese and BP have each provided incremental improvements to their AO Plus and CATIVA processes, respectively.
Very recently, BP announced a new technology, the BP SaaBre process, that the company anticipates could be an improvement over methanol carbonylation. BP stated that their first project will be to explore the feasibility of the technology for a potential joint venture in Oman at 1,000 kiloton/year. The company has not divulged details of SaaBre, appearing to protect the technology as long as possible and implying perceived value.
Press releases that comment about SaaBre do add some general concepts, that the technology “[is] an integrated three step process,” “avoids the need to purify carbon monoxide,” “does not require the purchase of methanol,” and “contains no halides reducing the need for exotic metallurgy.” The company also claims that “SaaBre is expected to deliver a significant reduction in variable manufacturing costs and lead to capital efficiencies, compared to the carbonylation of methanol route.” PEP has designed a process to satisfy the announced features and evaluate the economic feasibility of the technology. Economic results show that the BP SaaBre route has an advantage compared to current industry leading technologies, including BP’s own CATIVA technology. SaaBre advantages include substantially lower plant cash costs and net production cost.