Issue Date: November 23, 2009
Unions, Communities Urge End Of HF Use
The United Steelworkers and several Texas community groups have announced a national campaign to pressure refineries to stop using hydrogen fluoride as an alkylation catalyst for making high-octane fuels. The groups say alternatives exist, particularly solid-acid catalysts. They point to New Jersey company Exelus, which has developed the solid-acid-catalyst technology, and they want refiners to try the process in operating refineries at commercial scale. In an e-mail exchange, Exelus officials say they have tried the technology at a mothballed plant and it is cost-effective. The American Petroleum Institute is not so sure. API policy analyst Ron Chittim says solid-state catalysts are not a viable option at this time. "This process has never been used at a full-scale alkylation unit. Everybody supports moving R&D forward," he says, and if technology is shown to work, "it would be looked at very closely by industry." The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board is investigating three HF-related accidents that occurred this year at refineries. Hydrogen fluoride becomes hydrofluoric acid when exposed to moisture and is extremely corrosive. It is a contact poison that burns skin, tissue, and eyes and can cause death. About 50 of the U.S.'s 150 refiners use HF, API says, and another 50 use sulfuric acid as a catalyst.
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