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An integrated process for the production of γ-butyrolactone by coupling maleic anhydride hydrogenation and 1, 4-butanediol dehydrogenation in a fixed bed adiabatic reactor is studied. The reaction conditions realizing optimal hydrogen utilization and better energy efficiency are determined. Compared to stand-alone processes, the integrated process has several advantages, such as simpler reactor, easy temperature control, improved γ-butyrolactone yield, good energy efficiency and optimal hydrogen utilization. The integrated plant shows robust behavior with respect to disturbances and allows production rate change.


γ-butyrolactone (GBL) is known as a versatile solvent and a raw material for the synthesis of pyrrolidone, N-methyl pyrrolidone, N-vinyl pyrrolidone, herbicides, and rubber additives. GBL is manufactured via two methods: hydrogenation of maleic anhydride (MA) and dehydrogenative cyclization of 1,4- butanediol (BDO). Both processes are typically performed in multi-tubular fixedbed reactors [1]. The catalytic hydrogenation of MA or its derivatives such as maleic acid, succinic anhydride or succinic maleate to GBL has frequently been reported in the literature [2]. The reaction equation of MA hydrogenation to GBL can be represented as follows: 

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Integration by Hydrogen Balance

This section presents a process which couples dehydrogenation of 1,4- butanediol and hydrogenation of maleic anhydride in a single adiabatic reactor. The benefit of coupling the exothermic and endothermic reactions (hydrogenation and dehydrogenation) is that the heat generated by the first reaction is taken up by the second one, and no additional heating or cooling arrangements are required in the system. This leads to a much simpler reactor and the parametric sensitivity of the reactor is greatly reduced. The conversion of both maleic anhydride and 1, 4- butanediol is > 99.5%, eliminating recycling of reactants.

Integration by Heat balance

Reactants (MA – 20 kmol/h, BDO – 60 kmol/h and hydrogen – 3200 kmol/h) are mixed and brought to reaction temperature (220 ºC). The reactions take place in a tubular reactor (4 m diameter, 3 m length) which is adiabatically operated. The reactor is designed for the total conversion of reactants. Stream table of the process is given as Table 2. Fig. 3 shows mole fraction and temperature profiles along the reactor. The conversion of reactants into products is uniformly distributed along the reactor length and almost constant temperature should be remarked.

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Parametric Sensitivity

The chemical reactor deserves a special discussion. To remove the risk of run-away in hydrogenation of maleic anhydride as an individual process a large excess of hydrogen to feed ratio (100 – 200: 1) is provided to the system. Despite this, the reaction is very difficult to control. The operation of the integrated reactor is simulated, at various process conditions, in order to emphasize the stability of reactor with reduced parametric sensitivity. Fig. 4 and Fig. 5 show the effect of changing the reactor-inlet temperature and the hydrogen to feed ratio on the products mole fractions and temperature respectively.

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