Spent Equilibrium Catalyst for Manufacturing Fired Bricks: A Commercial Production Demonstration

By Mei-In Melissa Chou, Lu-Ming Chen and Sheng-Fu Joseph Chou.

Published by The International Journal of Environmental Sustainability

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Fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) is one of the most significant processes in refining crude oil into petroleum products, but the catalyst consumed in this process becomes waste. Current worldwide usage of zeolite-based FCC catalyst is about 500,000 metric tons per year, which results in producing about 360,000 metric tons of spent equilibrium catalyst (spent e-cat) each year. The majority of the spent e-cat materials is disposed of in landfills, but value-added applications could turn this waste into usable products that will also reduce the environmental risk and the economic burden of this landfill disposal. This zeolite-based spent e-cat from oil refinery operations, like coal fly ash and the conventional raw materials for fired bricks, consists primarily of silica and alumina. Our bench scale study (in a separate publication), using a mold-pressed method to form bricks, showed that fired bricks containing up to 30% by weight of spent e-cat could be successfully produced. This paper documents findings from a production demonstration where extrusion and firing facilities at a commercial brick plant were used to produce batches of 2000 bricks containing spent e-cat at two different levels, 14.3% by volume (13.5% by weight) and 28.6% by volume (27.2% by weight). The engineering properties of these bricks all met ASTM building brick specifications for the top level, severe weathering grade. In addition, acidic water extraction tests indicated that the final fired brick products, like conventional clay bricks, were environmentally safe construction materials. Thus, this waste material could be successfully incorporated into an environmentally sustainable product.

Keywords: Spent Equilibrium Catalyst, Fluid Catalytic Cracking, Oil Refinery, Fired Brick, Plant Production, Solid Waste Utilization

The International Journal of Environmental Sustainability, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.19-35. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 754.346KB).

Mei-In Melissa Chou

Adjunct Professor (Project Leader), Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (Prairie Research Institute-Illinois State Geological Survey Division), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA

Dr. Mei-In M. Chou earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from Michigan State University in 1978, with supervisor Prof. R.H. Grubbs-2005 Nobel Prize laureate. Dr. Chou joined the Survey in 1978. Since then, she has been the principal investigator of many projects in coal and geochemical investigations. In addition, she has led multiple projects in process development to utilize high volumes of solid coal combustion byproducts in value added applications. In 2001, she was awarded an adjunct professorship by the University of Illinois and started supervising graduate students. In the past 10 years, she was leading state and federally funded projects in making high-quality construction products with fly ash and bottom ash. Currently, her project has been extended to include value-added application for solid wastes generated from many energy related processes.

Dr. Lu-Ming Chen

Ph.D. student, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences; Illinois State Geological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA

Lu-Ming Chen, advised by Dr. Mei-In Melissa Chou, earned his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in 2012. He is also a LEED Accredited Professional in Operations and Maintenance (LEED AP O+M). With a background in environmental engineering and sciences, his specialty is in environmental sustainability, mainly utilization of waste materials generated from different industry streams into sustainable materials. It covers physical and chemical analyses of materials, manufacturing of construction products, engineering properties testing, environmental assessment, and economic analysis. His research interests include, but are not limited to, environmental sustainability, green technology, energy-efficient building materials, environmental chemistry, and life cycle analyses.

Dr. Sheng-Fu Joseph Chou

Professional Scientist, Prairie Research Institute-Illinois State Geological Survey Division, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA

Dr. Sheng-Fu Joseph Chou earned his Ph.D. degree in soil science from Michigan State University in 1977. Since then, he has been working with the Illinois State Geological Survey at the UIUC campus for more than 33 years. He has hands-on experience on many analytical instruments and has been a PI and Co-PI of many Survey’s projects related to environmental issues. He also assisted Survey’s brick projects by establishing brick testing laboratory and provided technical supervision on making full-size test bricks for preliminary in-plant firing evaluation. Currently, he is assisting a U.S. Department of Energy supported multi-phase carbon dioxide sequestration project.