The electrification of the petrochemical industry, imposed by the urgent need for decarbonization and driven by the incessant growth of renewable electricity share, necessitates electricity-driven technologies for efficient conversion of fossil fuels to chemicals. Non-thermal plasma reactor systems that successfully perform in lab scale are investigated for this purpose. However, the feasibility of such electrified processes at industrial scale is still questionable. In this context, two process alternatives for ethylene production via plasma-assisted non-oxidative methane coupling have conceptually been designed based on previous work of our group namely, a direct plasma-assisted methane-to-ethylene process (one-step process) and a hybrid plasma-catalytic methane-to-ethylene process (two-step process). Both processes are simulated in the Aspen Plus V10 process simulator and also consider the technical limitations of a real industrial environment. The economically favorable operating window (range of operating conditions at which the target product purity is met at minimum utility cost) is defined via sensitivity analysis. Preliminary results reveal that the hybrid plasma-catalytic process requires 21% less electricity than the direct one, while the electric power consumed for the plasma-assisted reaction is the major cost driver in both processes, accounting for ~75% of the total electric power demand. Finally, plasma-assisted processes are not economically viable at present. However, future decrease in electricity prices due to renewable electricity production increase can radically affect process economics. Given that a break-even electricity price of 35 USD/MWh (without considering the capital cost) is calculated for the two-step plasma process and that current electricity prices for some energy intensive industries in certain countries can be as low as 50 USD/MWh, the plasma-assisted processes may become economically viable in the future.
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