Phthalic Anhydride (PA) Production and Manufacturing Process

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Phthalic anhydride was first produced by the oxidation of naphthalene in concentrated sulphuric acid in the presence of mercury sulphate. This route was later replaced by the catalytic vapour phase oxidation of naphthalene in air in the presence of a vanadium oxide catalyst. Today, naphthalene feedstock has been generally superseded by the use of orthoxylene, with naphthalene now providing only 16% of feedstock requirements. In the US all production is now from orthoxylene with only Koppers having the facility to switch feedstocks. In Europe, more producers have the capability to use naphthalene. In the orthoxylene-based process, an air-orthoxylene mixture in a weight ratio of 20:1 is fed to a reactor containing vanadium pentoxide with titanium dioxide-antimony trioxide catalyst. Alternative catalysts include molybdenum trioxide and calcium oxide, or manganese oxides. The reaction takes place at 375-425oC and below 1 bar pressure. The effluent gases are cooled before entering switch condensers where the phthalic anhydride collects on the walls as a solid and is recovered by sublimation. Purification involves distillation under vacuum and the product is stored either in a molten state or bagged as flakes. The process technology has changed little although catalysts have a longer life of three years and yields have improved. A development has been the lowering of the air to orthoxylene weight ratio to 9.5:1, allowing a reduction in capital costs and energy savings.

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