Methyl chloride purification for the silicone industry

  • Jai Lad

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study experimentally investigated methyl chloride (MeCl) purification method using an inhouse designed and built volumetric adsorption/desorption rig. MeCl is an essential raw material in the manufacture of silicone however all technical grades of MeCl contain concentrations (0.2 - 1.0 % wt) of dimethyl ether (DME) which poison the process. The project industrial partner had previously exhausted numerous separation methods, which all have been deemed not suitable for various reasons. Therefore, adsorption/desorption separation was proposed in this study as a potential solution with less economic and environmental impact. Pure component adsorption/desorption was carried out for DME and MeCl on six different adsorbents namely: zeolite molecular sieves (types 4 Å and 5 Å); silica gels (35-70 mesh, amorphous precipitated, and 35-60 mesh) and granular activated carbon (type 8-12 mesh). Subsequent binary gas mixture adsorption in batch and continuous mode was carried out on both zeolites and all three silica gels following thermal pre-treatment in vacuum. The adsorbents were tested as received and after being subjected to different thermal and vacuum pre-treatment conditions. The various adsorption studies were carried out at low pressure and temperature ranges of 0.5 - 3.5 atm and 20 - 100 °C.
All adsorbents were characterised using Brunauer Emmett Teller (BET), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive x-ray analysis (EDXA) to investigate their physical and chemical properties. The well-known helium (He) expansion method was used to determine the empty manifold and adsorption cell (AC) regions and respective void volumes for the different adsorbents. The amounts adsorbed were determined using Ideal gas laws via the differential pressure method. The heat of adsorption for the various adsorbate-adsorbent (A-S) interactions was calculated using a new calorimetric method based on direct temperature measurements inside the AC. Further adsorption analysis included use of various empirical and kinetic models to determine and understand the behaviour of the respective interactions. The gas purification behaviour was investigated using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (GC-MC) analysis. Binary gas mixture samples were syringed from the manifold iii and AC outlet before and after adsorption/desorption analysis through manual sample injections into the GC-MS to detect and quantify the presence of DME and ultimately observe for methyl chloride purification. Convincing gas purification behaviour was confirmed using two different GC columns, thus giving more confidence on the measurement reliability.
From the single pure component adsorption of DME and MeCl on the as received zeolite 4A subjected to 1 h vacuum pre-treatment, both gases exhibited pseudo second order adsorption kinetics with DME exhibiting a rate constant nearly double that of MeCl thus suggesting a faster rate of adsorption. From the adsorption isotherm classification both DME and MeCl exhibited Type II and I adsorption isotherm classifications, respectively. The strength of bonding was confirmed by the differential heat of adsorption measurement, which was found to be 23.30 and 10.21 kJ mol-1 for DME and MeCl, respectively. The former is believed to adsorb heterogeneously through hydrogen bonding whilst MeCl adsorbs homogenously via van der Waal’s (VDW) forces. Single pure component adsorption on as received zeolite 5A, silica gels (35-70, amorphous precipitated and 35-60) resulted in similar adsorption/desorption behaviour in similar quantities (mol kg-1). The adsorption isotherms for DME and MeCl on zeolite 5A, silica gels (35-70, amorphous precipitated and 35-60) and activated carbon 8-12 exhibited Type I classifications, respectively. Experiments on zeolite 5A indicated that DME adsorbed stronger, faster and with a slightly stronger strength of interaction than MeCl but in lesser quantities. On the silica gels adsorbents, DME exhibited a slightly greater adsorption capacity whilst adsorbing at a similar rate and strength of interaction compared to MeCl. On the activated carbon adsorbent, MeCl exhibited the greater adsorption capacity at a faster rate but with similar heats of adsorption.
The effect of prolonged vacuum (15 h), thermal pre-treatment (150 °C) and extended equilibrium time (15 min) were investigated for the adsorption behaviour of DME and MeCl on both zeolites 4A and 5A, respectively. Compared to adsorption on as received adsorbents subjected to 1 h vacuum the adsorption capacities for DME and MeCl were found to increase by 1.95 % and 20.37 % on zeolite 4A and by 4.52 % and 6.69 % on zeolite 5A, respectively. In addition the empirical and kinetic models and differential heats of adsorption resulted in more definitive fitting curves and trends due to the true equilibrium position of the adsorbate with the adsorbent.
Batch binary mixture adsorption on thermally and vacuum pre-treated zeolite 4A demonstrated purification behaviour of all adsorbents used for MeCl streams containing DME impurities, with a concentration as low as 0.66 vol. %. The GC-MS analysis showed no DME detection for the tested concentration mixtures at the AC outlet after 15 or 30 min, whereas MeCl was detectable in measurable amounts. Similar behaviour was also observed when carrying out adsorption in continuous mode. On the other hand, similar studies on the other adsorbents did not show such favourable MeCl purification behaviour.
Overall this study investigated a wide range of adsorbents (zeolites, silica gels and activated carbon) and demonstrated for the first time potential to purify MeCl streams containing DME impurities using adsorption/desorption separation under different adsorbent pre-treatment and adsorption operating conditions. The study also revealed for the first time the adsorption isotherms, empirical and kinetic models and heats of adsorption for the respective adsorbentsurface (A-S) interactions.
In conclusion, this study has shown strong evidence to propose zeolite 4A for adsorptive purification of MeCl. It is believed that with a technical grade MeCl stream competitive yet simultaneous co-adsorption of DME and MeCl occurs with evidence of molecular sieiving effects whereby the larger DME molecules are unable to penetrate through the adsorbent bed whereas the smaller MeCl molecules diffuse through resulting in a purified MeCl stream at the AC outlet. Ultimately, further studies are recommended for increased adsorption capacities by considering wider operating conditions, e.g. different adsorbent thermal and vacuum pre-treatment and adsorbing at temperatures closer to the boiling point of the gases and different conditions of pressure and temperature.
Date of Award21 Oct 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aston University
SupervisorYassir T Makkawi (Supervisor)

Cite this