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Performance of zeolite ZSM-5 synthesised from South African fly ash in the conversion of methanol to hydrocarbons
Zeolites have found applications as heterogeneous or solid catalyst in the petrochemical and refining industries. Zeolite ZSM-5 in particular is a highly siliceous solid catalyst with a porous network that consists of medium pore structure (pore openings 5-5.5 A). The solid catalyst (ZSM-5) is well known for its high temperature stability and strong acidity, which makes it an established catalyst used for different petrochemical processes such as Methanol-To-Gasoline (MTG), isomerisation, disproportionation, and cracking. Unlike in the past, the synthesis of zeolite ZSM-5 from other sources that contains silica (Si) and alumina (Al) with the addition of a template (TPBr) as a structure-directing agent is eminent. Its synthesis can be achievable from coal fly ash that is a waste material and a cheap source of Si and Al. Coal fly ash is a waste material that is produced during the combustion of coal to generate electricity. The elemental composition of coal fly ash consists of mostly SiO2 and Al2O3 together with other significant and trace elements. Zeolite ZSM-5 catalyst synthesised from coal fly ash by previous authors required an excessive amount of additional source of silica even though the XRD spectra still show the presence of quartz and mullite phase in the final products. These phases prevented the use of fly ash (solid) as a precursor to synthesise zeolite ZSM-5 products. However, the synthesis of high purity zeolite ZSM-5 products by extracting silica and alumina from South African fly ash and then using it with small amounts of fumed silica was investigated This aim was achieved by fusing fly ash (FA) with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) under hydrothermal condition set at 550 oC for 1 hour 30 minutes. The quartz and mullite phase observed by previous authors was digested by the fusion process. Thereafter, the treatment of fused fly ash filtrate (FFAF) with concentrated H2SO4 (98-99%), precipitated silica and removed Al that therefore increased the Si/Al ratio from 1.97 in fly ash (FA) to 9.5 in the silica extract (named fused fly ash extract). This route was designed to improve the quality of the final products and reduced the amount of fumed silica added to the synthesis mixture prior to hydrothermal synthesis. In this line of investigation, the process of adding fumed silica to the hydrothermal gel was optimised. H-FF1 with a Si/Al ratio of 9.5 was synthesised using the silica extract without the addition of fumed silica. Its XRD, SEM and relative crystallinity results proved that H-FF1 was inactive and hence was not further characterised and utilised in the conversion of methanol to hydrocarbons (MTH). Purer phase zeolite ZSM-5 products (H-FF2 and H-FF3) that were synthesised from silica extract with the addition of small amounts of fumed silica were characterised and successfully used in the methanol to hydrocarbons (MTH) reaction. The synthesised ZSM-5 products had different Si/Al ratio, different morphology, crystal size, BET surface area, and relative crystallinity as well as different trends in the MTH reaction. It was also observed that H-FF2 and H-FF3 (pure phase) solid catalyst deactivated faster than the commercial H-ZSM-5 in the MTH reaction. However, the MTH conversion over H-FF2 competed with that of the commercial H-ZSM-5 within 3 hours of time on stream (TOS) but later deactivated at a faster rate. This was caused by the large crystal size and reduced BET surface area of H-FF2 when compared to the commercial H-ZSM-5. However, H-FF2 performed better than H-FF3 on stream (MTH reaction) due to its smaller crystal size and higher BET. This study has successfully utilised a route that synthesised high purity zeolite ZSM-5 products from the South African fused fly ash extract (FFAE) with the addition of small amounts of fumed silica. The properties of the synthesised zeolite ZSM-5 products (H-FF2 and H-FF3) were similar to that of the commercial H-ZSM-5 as well as active in the MTH reaction. This promoted the utilisation of a waste material (coal fly ash) to synthesise highly siliceous zeolite ZSM-5 products that avoided the presence of mineral phases from fly ash in the final products.