The molecular design of a new solvent for the absorption of carbon dioxide
Gas absorption, the removal of one or more constitutents from a gas mixture, is widely used in chemical processes. In many gas absorption processes, the gas mixture is already at high pressure and in recent years organic solvents have been developed for the process of physical absorption at high pressure followed by low pressure regeneration of the solvent and recovery of the absorbed gases. Until now the discovery of new solvents has usually been by expensive and time consuming trial and error laboratory tests. This work describes a new approach, whereby a solvent is selected from considerations of its molecular structure by applying recently published methods of predicting gas solubility from the molecular groups which make up the solvent molecule. The removal of the acid gases of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from methane or hydrogen was used as a commercially important example. After a preliminary assessment to identify promising moecular groups, more than eighty new solvent molecules were designed and evaluated by predicting gas solubility. The other important physical properties were also predicted by appropriate theoretical procedures, and a commercially promising new solvent was chosen to have a high solubility for acid gases, a low solubility for methane and hydrogen, a low vapour pressure, and a low viscosity. The solvent chosen, of molecular structure Ch3-COCH2-CH2-CO-CH3, was tested in the laboratory and shown to have physical properties, except for vapour pressures, close to those predicted. That is gas solubilities were within 10% but lower than predicted. Viscosity within 10% but higher than predicted and a vapour pressure significantly lower than predicted. A computer program was written to predict gas solubility in the new solvent at the high pressures (25 bar) used in practice. This is based on the group contribution method of Skold Jorgensen (1984). Before using this with the new solvent, Acetonyl acetone, the method was show to be sufficiently accurate by comparing predicted values of gas solubility with experimental solubilities from the literature for 14 systems up to 50 bar. A test of the commercial potential of the new solvent was made by means of two design studies which compared the size of plant and approximate relative costs of absorbing acid gases by means of the new solvent with other commonly used solvents. These were refrigerated methanol(Rectisol process) and Dimethyl Ether or Polyethylene Glycol(Selexol process). Both studies showed in terms of capital and operating cost some significant advantage for plant designed for the new solvent process.