Process technology to produce ethanolamines by reaction of ammonia and ethylene oxide

Monoethanolamine (C2H7NO), Diethanolamine (C4H11NO2), and Triethanolamine (C6H15NO3) are three basic ethanolamines produced in large scale by reacting ammonia and ethylene oxide.

Chemical reactions equations:

CH2-CH2-O + NH3 → NH2CH2CH2OH   MEA

CH2-CH2-O + NH2CH2CH2OH → NH(CH2CH2OH)2    DEA

CH2-CH2-O + NH(CH2CH2OH)2 → N(CH2CH2OH)3      TEA

Process description:

Ammonia mixed with water to form aqueous ammonia solution with concentration ranging from 25-30% and mixed with ethylene oxide in a stirred tank reactor. The reaction is exothermic so the reactors are provided with jackets and water circulated to remove the generated heat to maintain the reaction temperature. The fed ratio of the ammonia and ethylene oxide directly effects the product formation to MEA, DEM or TEM. Based on the product requirements the raw material fed ratio automatically adjusted during the reaction operation by the control valve opening by the DCS. In general, to obtain high monoethanolamine product in single reaction cycle high ammonia to ethylene fed ratio is the favorable condition. Unreacted ammonia is recycled from the ammonia flash separator. Three individual towers separate MEA, DEA and TEA from the reactor product stream and a provision of recycling DEA and MEA to the reactor is provide to converted into TEA or DEA. Di and Tri separation tower operate under vacuum to prevent decomposition problem.

Process flow diagram:
Ethanolamines production process flow diagram from ethylene oxide and ammonia

Ammonia and ethylene oxide conversion process to ethanolamines

Industrial application:
  • Aqueous ethanolamines are used as scrubbing agents to absorb sulphur compound (H2S, SO2) in gas like natural gas, flue gas, and process gases. Packed bed absorbers are used for the scrubbing operation called as sweeting process in case of natural gas treatment.
  • Due the base property of ethanolamines, ammonia in the form of amine functional group reacts with acids likes CO2 and CO. CO2 purification units and synthesis gas units use aqueous ethanolamines in continuous scrubbing process because these ethanolamines are regenerable. Diethanolamine dissolve in water to form aqueous solutions having absorption factor 0.4 towards carbon dioxide.