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Technology Profile

Aluminum Chloride Production


By Intratec Solutions

luminum chloride (AlCl3) is


among the most widely used
Lewis acids in industry, and is
also one of the most powerful. The compound is employed as a
catalyst in the manufacture of a multitude of organic chemicals produced
by several different reaction mechanisms, including isomerization, alkylation and polymerization.
The main applications of AlCl3 are
in the production of ethylbenzene and
dyes. AlCl3 catalyzes the ethylation of
benzene with ethylene to yield ethylbenzene, which, in turn, is used in the
production of styrene. In the dyestuffs
industry, AlCl3 is used as a catalyst in
the production of anthraquinone and
its derivatives, as well as in the production of pigments.

The process
The following paragraphs describe a
conventional process for anhydrous
AlCl3 production from aluminum metal and chlorine. Figure 1 presents a
simplified flow diagram of the process.
Reaction. The reaction takes place in
ceramic-lined, tube-shaped reactors
containing molten aluminum. Chlorine gas is injected below the surface
of the molten aluminum pool, leading
to the formation of aluminum chloride vapor in a highly exothermic and
practically instantaneous reaction.
The reaction occurs at 670850C.
The temperature is maintained in this
range by controlling the feedrates of
chlorine and aluminum and by cooling
the reactor walls with water.
The AlCl3 vapor from the reactors is
fed to air-cooled condensers, which are
vertical cylinders with conical bottoms.

Aluminum,
chlorine

Metal
chlorination

Chlorine, carbon
monoxide,
alumina

Catalytic
chlorination

Chlorination

Aluminum,
hydrogen chloride

n Raw material n Pathway n Main product

FIGURE 2. Several possible production pathways exist for AlCl3

As the AlCl3 vapor comes into contact


with the condenser walls, it loses its
heat of sublimation, and is deposited
on the walls. The deposited solid AlCl3
is withdrawn from the condenser walls
at regular intervals, and subsequently
conveyed to holding silos.
Crushing and sizing. AlCl3 crystals
from the holding silos are crushed and
sized by sieving under a dry-air atmosphere. After sizing, the AlCl3 product
is obtained.
Scrubber. The condensing, crushing
and sizing operations, as well as storage facilities, are designed to avoid
the entrance of moist atmospheric air.
To achieve this, a vent system linked
to those pieces of equipment directs
the offgas (containing unreacted chlorine and uncondensed gases) to a
caustic scrubber. The scrubbed gas is
vented to the atmosphere, while the
scrubbers bottom stream is treated
as wastewater.

AlCl3 pathways

Initially, aluminum chloride was produced on a commercial scale from


calcined bauxite and coke. New routes
have emerged, however, that present
advantages over the bauxite process.
The advantages are derived from a re-

duced occurrence of reactor corrosion


and from the production of a higherpurity product. Currently, the most important raw materials for AlCl3 production are either aluminum metal or pure
aluminum oxide. Figure 2 presents different pathways for AlCl3 production.

Economic performance
The total capital investment estimated
to construct a plant based on the process in Figure 1 with capacity to produce 5,000 metric ton per year of AlCl3
in the U.S. is about $8 million (data
from the second quarter of 2013). This
capital investment includes fixed capital, working capital and additional capital requirements.
This column is based on Aluminum Chloride Production Process
Cost Analysis, a report published
by Intratec. It can be found at: www.
intratec.us/analysis/aluminum-chloride-production-cost.
n
Edited by Scott Jenkins
Editors note: The content for this column is supplied by Intratec Solutions LLC (Houston; www.intratec.us) and edited
by Chemical Engineering. The analyses and models presented
are prepared on the basis of publicly available and nonconfidential information. The content represents the opinions
of Intratec only. More information about the methodology for
preparing analysis can be found, along with terms of use, at
www.intratec.us/che.

Caustic soda
make-up

Wastewater

1. Reactor
2. Condenser
3. Holding silo
4. Crusher
5. Sizing equipment
6. Caustic scrubber
7. Cooling tower
CW = Cooling water

2
3

CW

Bauxite, coke,
chlorine

Anhydrous
aluminum chloride

Offgas

Aluminum
scrap

Chlorination

CW

Aluminum
chloride

Chlorine

FIGURE 1. This figure shows a conventional process for the production of AlCl3 from aluminum and chlorine
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OCTOBER 2016

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