The Fluid Bed Reactor
First fluid bed reactor for gasoline production went on stream in 1942 to meet growing demand for high-octane fuels.
The first commercial circulating fluid bed reactor, PCLA #1 (Powdered Catalyst Louisiana), went on stream on May 25, 1942, in the Baton Rouge Refinery of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now Exxon Corporation). This first use of powdered catalysts in continuous operation allowed the efficient cracking of heavy gas oils to meet the growing demand for high-octane fuels. PCLA #1 was dismantled in 1963 after 21 years of successful operation. Today, more than 350 fluid bed reactors, including PCLA #2 and PCLA #3, are in use worldwide for the manufacture of fuels, chemical intermediates, and plastics.
After the war, demand for gasoline to fuel automobiles continued to increase. Today, more than 370 fluidized FCC units are in operation around the world. The FCC capacity in the U.S. increased from 50 million gallons per day in 1950 to over 210 million gallons per day in 1992. Over the same time period, world capacity is over 460 million gallons per day, up from 63 million gallons per day. As the demands for gasoline volume and qualities have changed, the incorporation of new catalyst technology in these versatile fluidized catalyst units has enabled fuels manufacturers to provide cleaner burning gasolines.
Today many chemical reactors use fluidized beds. For example, the commercial synthesis of acrylonitrile, phthalic anhydride, aniline, maleic anhydride, and a portion of the polymerization of ethylene (to polyethylene) and propylene (to polypropylene) are all done in fluid bed reactors. There are noncatalytic processes, such as ore roasting, coking, combustion of coal and other solid fuels, as well as purely physical processes such as drying and conveying of fine particle products like flour, rice, and cement, which use the principles developed for the fine-particle fluidized bed.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about the history of fluid bed reactors.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program