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Working Paper

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Ethyl acetate is a specialty chemical with dominant use as a solvent, and total production exceeding 3.7MMT annually in 2017. Current production methods mainly utilize petrochemical-derived feedstocks of ethanol and acetic acid that undergo Fischer Esterification to produce ethyl acetate. This is traditionally considered to be an unsustainable process. A new startup company, Greenyug, based out of Santa Barbara, CA, has proposed a new design that solely utilizes fermentation ethanol, and, as a result, is considered sustainable. Greenyug describes (in accordance to US Patents US8562921B2, US9079851B2, and US9447018B2) a two-step reaction pathway that first partially dehydrogenates ethanol to acetaldehyde, then utilizes nucleophilic addition of ethanol to acetaldehyde to form ethyl acetate. This novel process makes use of reactive distillation to achieve both high conversion and selectivity in one reaction vessel, which is difficult to achieve with the current production methods. Technical and economic feasibility of Greenyug’s process is investigated in this report.

A plant is designed to replicate Greenyug’s newly constructed 50kT/year Columbus, NE facility. The process is composed of three main segments; one in which the main chemistry takes places through reactive distillation, and two in which separations occur. The final product is 99.8% ethyl acetate by mass and meets market purity specifications. The design requires an initial capital investment of $16.9MM, yields a fifteen year net present value (NPV) of $23.08MM, and has an estimated investor’s rate of return (IRR) of 38.73%. The proposed process is expected to break even in Q1 2023. This investigation concludes that Greenyug poses a competitive threat to the ethyl acetate industry, from both a technical and economic standpoint.



Date Posted: 20 May 2019