|dc.description.abstract||The Fischer-Tropsch synthesis over iron and cobalt based catalysts has been
investigated in the slurry phase. Reaction conditions were restricted to
those conducive for the optimum production of synthetic wax (i.e. high
molecular weight straigth chain hydrocarbons). In this field of application of
Fischer-Tropsch, strong indications exist to believe that cobalt does possess
the potential of threatening to replace the current commercial iron based
catalyst. This possibility is, however, limited to low temperature Fischer-
Tropsch and is therefore not applicable in the case of high temperature
Fischer-Tropsch (i.e. Synthol, where the optimum production of gasoline is
The main objective of this investigation was thus the comparison between
promising cobalt catalysts and the current Sasol commercial low temperature
precipitated iron catalyst (i.e. Arge catalyst) in the slurry phase reactor. The
slurry reactor was preferred because of the conviction that this mode of
operation had all the attributes for replacing the mature tubular fixed bed
reactor technology, a belief since then proven correct with the recent
successful commercialization of the Sasol Slurry Bed Process (i.e. SSBP).
In this comparative study, the emphasis was placed on selectivity and
activity (in the absence of mass transfer limitations) as synthesis parameters.
This approach guaranteed comparisons solely based upon intrinsic catalyst
performance. Care was further exercised not to compare the various
selected catalyst in a simplistic manner, but to rather have concentrated on
the strengh of each individual catalyst. A distinction was therefore drawn
between reaction conditions accentuating these strong characteristics,
information believed to be of importance in the design of grass-roots plants.
The kinetic investigations into ,the commercial iron based catalyst, revealed
its complexity. The reason for this being that aspects such as catalyst
oxidation and carbon deposition (restricted to reactor temperatures higher
than 250°C), renders the catalyst itself a variable. In certain instances (e.g.
bulk phase oxidation resulting in the loss of surface area as a consequence
of sintering) these catalyst changes are irreversible. The conclusion was
reached that the existence of a generally valid iron based Fischer-Tropsch
rate equation could be placed in doubt. In this regard published claims were
re-examined, and through statistical analyses of these published data, the
conclusion was reached that these published claims are not beyond criticism.
As a result of this statistical approach the conclusion was made that H,O,
and not in combination with CO,, inhibits the iron based Fischer-Tropsch
The cobalt based Fischer-Tropsch kinetic investigation supported the
conception that the absence of phenomena such as catalyst oxidation and
carbon deposition, strenghtens the likelikhood of a generally valid rate
equation. It is believed that the proposed equation , published by Satterfield,
could satisfy this need. This equation supports the absence of Fischer-
Tropsch reaction rate inhibition by water, the single biggest difference
between iron and cobalt based Fischer-Tropsch.
From a direct comparative kinetic study, the conclusion was made that
supported cobalt catalysts could be prepared with sufficient specific (per unit
catalyst mass) activity, in order to compete favourably with the current
commercial iron based catalyst employed by Sasol.
With respect to the product selectivity investigation, the emphasis was
placed on wax (i.e. 1 in the case of reactor wax, and 2 C3,,, in the
case of hard wax). The published "double a" model was selected as a
reliable tool for accurately extrapolating from the readily quantitative
analysable C, to C,, product slate to the desired wax cuts. This technique
resulted in the deduction that similar wax selectivities are attainable with
cobalt and iron. Speculatively, indications exist to believe that cobalt based
wax selectivities can further be improved (and tailored) through fine tuning
reactor pressures in combination with space velocities, an avenue of
anticipated limited impact in the case of iron.
Published literature is also inclined to create the impression that relative high
product branching degrees are inherent to cobalt based Fischer-Tropsch,
thus negatively influencing wax quality. This perception stems from normal
pressure Fischer-Tropsch operations. This investigation, however,
underlined the notion that high branching degrees are only associated with
normal pressure operation, and that branching degrees attained during
medium pressure (- 20 bar) cobalt based operation compares well with that
of iron. The improved version of the published "non-trivial-surfacepolymerization"
model was used in support of this claim. This model was
also successfully used in the elucidation of the Fischer-Tropsch mechanism,
in the sense that it provided an ideal tool for the consolidation of published
individual mechanistic observations.
In conclusion it can be stated that enough information has been generated
in order to assume that cobalt based Fischer-Tropsch (low temperature and
medium pressure application, preferably in the slurry phase), is a viable
commercial alternative to the Arge process.||