Abstract

Decarbonising highly energy-intensive industrial processes is imperative if nations are to comply with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050. This is a significant challenge for high-temperature industrial processes, such as hydrocarbon cracking, and there have been limited developments thus far. The novel concept presented in this study aims to replace the radiant section of a hydrocarbon cracking plant with a novel turbo-reactor. This is one of the first major and potentially successful attempts at decarbonising the petrochemical industry. Rather than using heat from the combustion of natural gas, the novel turbo-reactor can be driven by an electric motor powered by renewable electricity. Switching the fundamental energy transfer mechanism from surface heat exchange to mechanical energy transfer significantly increases the exergy efficiency of the process. Theoretical analysis and numerical simulations show that the ultra-high aerodynamic loading rotor is able to impart substantial mechanical energy into the feedstock without excess temperature difference and temperature magnitude. A complex shockwave system then transforms the kinetic energy into internal energy over an extremely short distance. The version of the turbo-reactor developed and presented in this study uses a single rotor row, in which a multi-stage configuration is achieved regeneratively by guiding the flow through a toroidal-shaped vaneless space. This configuration leads to a reduction in reactor volume by more than two orders of magnitude compared with a conventional furnace. A significantly lower wall surface temperature, supersonic gas velocities and a shorter primary gas path enable a controlled reduction in the residence time for chemical reactions, which optimises the yield. For the same reasons, the conditions for coke deposition on the turbo-reactor surfaces are unfavourable, leading to an increase in plant availability. This study demonstrates that the mechanical work input into the feedstock can be dissipated through an intense turbulent mixing process which maintains an ideal and controlled pressure level for cracking. Numerical calculations show that the turbulence intensity increases by nearly an order of magnitude relative to that in a industrial radiant reaction tube, which can be favourable for accelerating the chemical kinetics.

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