Issue Date: January 10, 2011
ACS Award For Creative Invention
Through his 50 patents and his leadership role in catalysis, Jeffery C. Bricker has enabled the commercialization of important refining and petrochemical technologies that have contributed to development of more energy efficient processes, conservation of the world’s natural resources, and improvement of environmental safety, says colleague Ben Christolini, chief technology officer and vice president of R&D at UOP, a Honeywell subsidiary, in Des Plaines, Ill.
Bricker, who is currently senior director of research, joined UOP in 1983. His first invention was an improved catalyst used in the dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene to form styrene. Selective oxidation of the hydrogen coproduct generates heat in situ in the process, resulting in lower energy demand and greater conversion of ethylbenzene to styrene. Bricker’s improved hydrogen oxidation catalyst possessed a unique pore structure that allowed it to survive the severe reaction conditions and eliminated diffusion limitations, thereby promoting hydrogen oxidation and diminishing the undesired styrene combustion reaction. The new catalyst enabled the commercialization of SMART (Styrene Monomer Advanced Reheat Technology), which is now responsible for styrene production of more than 1.3 million metric tons annually.
Bricker applied his concepts of diffusion control to improving processes for alkane dehydrogenation. He invented a stable paraffin dehydrogenation catalyst with pore mouths just large enough to inhibit coke buildup yet providing enough surface area to keep the catalyst’s metals dispersed on its surface. UOP first commercialized the paraffin dehydrogenation process, named Oleflex, in 1990. Currently, 12 Oleflex units produce 2.1 million metric tons of propylene and 1.7 million metric tons of isobutylene annually using this catalyst invention.
More recently, Bricker and his team also used diffusion control to improve the dehydrogenation technology for production of linear alkyl benzenes (LABs), the precursor for biodegradable detergents. LABs are produced by selective dehydrogenation of linear alkanes (C10 to C15) to linear monoalkenes, followed by alkylation of benzene with the monoalkenes. The new catalyst technology reduced by-product heavy alkylates by 20% and is used to produce more than 80% of the world’s LABs.
In 1990, UOP commercialized Bricker’s Caustic-Free Merox process, which solves a waste-disposal issue for oil refiners. In the conventional oil-sweetening process, caustic soda is used to convert smelly and corrosive thiols into more innocuous disulfides but then becomes a disposal problem. Bricker’s process utilizes a new catalyst that can sweeten oil without caustic soda. Since the launch of the new process, 10 kerosene- and jet-fuel-sweetening units with a total capacity of 180,000 barrels per day have come onstream using this technology.
Another Bricker invention enables refiners to produce low-sulfur fuel through thioetherification.
Bricker, 53, earned a B.S. in chemistry and mathematics from Heidelberg University in 1979 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1983 from Ohio State University. He has received a variety of fellowships and awards, including a National Institutes of Health intern fellowship (1979), Outstanding Chemistry Researcher Award at Ohio State (1982), a Presidential Fellowship at Ohio State (1982), the UOP Stine Star Award (1991), and a 2006 Honeywell Specialty Materials Growth & Innovation Award. He was the 2008 Devon W. Meek Lecturer at Ohio State.
Bricker will deliver the award address before the Division of Petroleum Chemistry.
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