Journal of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, 2013, 1, 11-16 Published Online February 2013 (
VLDPE Synthesis by Radical Ethylene Polymerization in
Tubular ReactorsNegative Factor or Unrealized
Ye. Koval1, Ye. Skvortsevitch1, E. Mayer2
1Tomskneftekhim Ltd., Tomsk, Russia
2Tomsk Polytechnic University, Tomsk, Russia
Received 2013
This paper presents the results of polymeric deposit analysis in HP recycling system on two ethylene polymerization
trains in tubular reactors when using mixed initiation (organic peroxides and oxygen) in the process of various grade
production. It is demonstrated that polymers belong to the very low density type (with ρ in 0,860 to 0,900 g/cm3 range),
due to ultra high branching. Consideration is given to known processes of that kind polymer production. There dis-
cussed the alternatives of different approaches to special process features found. It is stated that 80-year high pressure
PE synthesis history has been keeping potential for the development.
Keywords: VLDPE; LDPE Production Process; Tubular Reactor; Mixed Initiation
1. Introduction
In the eve of 80th anniversary of the first PE gram
production by ICI’s [1] employees E. W. Fawcett and B.
O. Gibson in March 1933 in the process of HP ethylene
polymerization, the polymer comes first in overall
production with annual output over 75 million tons[2].
It is significantly due to the development of the various
ethylene polymerization processes and copolymerization
with other monomers using wide-ranging initiating and
catalytic systems. That provided a potentiality to produce
polymers with broad variations of molecular structure,
molecular weight and molecular-weight distribution and
accordingly with various crystal structure, density,
mechanical and physical properties, rheology and other
physical specifications. That in its turn permitted to convert
a polymer in all state-of-the-art processes for thermoplasts
for the widest application in different industries, agriculture,
medicine, household goods production providing stable
market growth.
Summarized classification of the present PE type variety
given in Table 1 is provided in encyclopedic publications
[3], although without consideration to another unique
material such as UHMWPE demonstrating the highest rate
of the production growth [4]. Observed property values of
the tested samples are also given in this Table 1.
Chronologically the most recent PE type having been
intensively developed over last quarter of a century is
VLDPE (or ULDPE) belonging by its properties to
plastomers and elastomers rather than to thermoplasts.
The paper [5] presents company achievements in the
development of this discipline driven by use of various
catalytic systems and high alpha olefins. Control of
polymer branching, crystal structure, density and heat
transfer properties is performed by change of the amount
of alpha-olefins or macromer on metallocene catalyst being
introduced on the polymerization stage. The products
have been commercialized by Dow Chemical, Exxon, Du
Pont, however uneconomic production process by
solution technology, cost of co-monomers and specific
type catalytic systems retard this promising market
segment development.
Table 1. Typical properties of different types of PE and deposit stuff.
sample «А»
sample «B»
Density (g/cm3)
Degree of crystallinity (% from density)
Degree of crystallinity (% from calorimetry)
Melting temperature (0C)
Heat of fusion (cal/g)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. MSCE
Data relating to synthesis of PE with density about
0,90 g/cm3 by HP polymerization with use of 3,4-
dimethyl-3,3-diphenyl as initiator are also known,
however polymerization temperature should be
350-360 °C, but that is unrealized in industrial processes
due to actuation of reactor protection emergency
shutdown system at 320 °C with discharge into open vent
system for avoiding thermal ethylene decomposition.
Besides, synthesized polymers had very low molecular
weight [6].
LDPE production is the slowest-growing one in PE
market development structure. But even insignificant
growth would result from either large running plant
revamp for the purpose of capacity and economical
efficiency increase or from shutdown of obsolescent low
capacity plants and construction of the novel ones with
high unit capacity [7].
2. The object of study
Based on the tendencies outlined it would make sense to
communicate some peculiarities of LDPE production by
tubular process on two Tomskneftekhim’s trains Polymir
-75 also celebrating the 20-aniversary of its operation this
year. Process improvement history providing capacity
increase up to 240 kty is detailed in paper [8], process
flow diagram is given on Figure1.
The main effect has been obtained as a result of mixed
initiation (oxygen and organic peroxides) introduction
and peroxide “cocktail” improvement in accordance with
feasible reactor block [9] operation parameters, that
provided ethylene conversion increase up to 28,0÷28,5 %.
HP recycle system consists of HPS (high pressure
separator) and three-stage returned gas cooling and
LMWPE removal system, in each stage there are a PIP
heat-exchanger and a separator. HPS each per train is a
vertical and cylindrical vessel of 5 cubical meter capacity
operating on a principal of gravity “liquid-gas” mixture
separations at the following conditions: temperature
230-240 °C, pressure 28-30 MPa, filling level up to
25 % of capacity.
HP recycling system inspection on the both trains has
shown the following situation presence of solid deposits
of rubber-like consistency and several centimeter thickness
on the HPS walls and covers, as it is demonstrated on
Figure 2, as well as films of the same type in heat-
exchangers and separators.
LP Recycle Cools, separate Oils/Waxes
HP Recycle Cools, separate Waxes
Fresh Ethelene
Pre-Heater Reactor
Mixture of peroxide 1
and O
Mixture of
peroxide 2 and O
Peroxide 3
and O
210 – 230 MPa
160 – 170 °C
170 – 318 °C // CW 180 – 200 °C
Extruder 1Extruder 2
Storage /
11 12
190 – 200 °C
0.1 – 0.5 MPa
230 - 240 °C
25 - 30 MPa
The Polimir Process
Figure1. LDPE production process in tubular reactor of Tomskneftekhim Ltd.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. MSCE
Figure 2. The picture of opened HPS with polymeric
deposits on the cover and walls.
Samples taken from HPS for analysis are marked with
letters “A” and “B”, that corresponds to marking of the
polymerization trains (train “A|” is for PE production
with MFI 2g/10 min. and train “B” with MFI 0,3 g/10
3. Methods of Analysis
Polymer density has been measured by flotation method
at 25 °C as per ISO 1183-1:2004, gel fraction measured
by selective extraction of soluble portion with hot
o-xylol in Soxhlet's (extraction) apparatus in nitrogen,
MFI measured as per ISO 1133 on plastometer “Modular
Melt Flow Tester” at 190 °C, IR spectra have been taken
on films with thickness about 100 μ m (thickness
nonuniformity appeared due to visible sample shrinkage
following pressure relief) on spectrometer Avatar 370,
calorimetric characteristics have been registered with
scanned calorimeter F1 Phoenix, Netzsch in -60С - +200
temperature range at 10 g/min heating-cooling scanning
velocity, NMR 13C registered with a device Brucker 400
in trichlorobenzene, crystal structure has been measured
with x-ray diffractometer Shimadzu XRD-700.
LDPE industrial samples with MFI 2g/10 min and
ethylene-propylene-diene terpolymers Royalene 697 and
563 made by Lion Copolymer with mole ratio E/P 70/30
and 56/44 respectively have been analyzed for purpose
of comparison.
4. Findings and Consideration
Deposits from train “A” have MFI 1,2 g/10 min. and
25 % content of insoluble in o-xylol fraction, from train
“B” do 4,1 g/10 min. and 19 % respectively.
Data of IR- Fourier deposit spectroscopy show very
high total methyl group content (both end and in
branching), C-H bond bending absorption band intensity
in group CH3 at 1378 cm-1 is more than 720 cm-1 band
intensity, characterizing ethylene content. Rough
estimate is given as 100 СН3\1000 С, but typical value
for LDPE is about 30 CH3/1000 C according to literature
data and previously examined sample [10,11], that
proves the presence of the reasonable short-chain branch
In paper [12] it is shown by simulation method that
6-7 uniformly embedded propylene links per 100 atoms
of C chain would be enough for producing fully amorphous
PE. Propylene as co-monomer is less effective in
comparison with high alpha-olefins for decreasing
polymer crystallinity. However when producing synthetic
ethylene-propylene-diene rubber they practically use
30 % and more of propylene for producing amorphous
product due to the lack of ideal co-monomer random
distribution – presence of propylene microblocks in a
chain. So, for PE amorphicity on the synthesis stage it is
required above 300 methyl groups per 1000 atoms of
main C chain.
Deposit sample analysis by NMR 13C proves the
presence of very low intensity signals in 20 ppm area
being typical for various stereo-configuration of
propylene methyl groups in PE. According to previously
made estimates for PE being synthesized in a similar
process with use of propylene as a chain transfer agent
the portion of methyl groups is not above 2-3% of the
total number of branches [13,14]. Therefore, in samples
analyzed the major portion of short-chain branches is of
different nature. For example, in deposit spectra the
proportion of signal intensity of ethyl branches (8,11ppm)
to signal intensity of end and butyl groups is significantly
higher rather than in LDPE spectra.
However, known high propylene content ethylene –
propylene rubbers are convenient samples for comparing
the influence of branch number on PE crystal structure.
Illustratively on the Fig.3 there are fragments of x-ray
spectra (WAXS) of LDPE produced, deposits and
ethylene-propylene rubbers with mole propylene content
being 30 and 44 % (EPDM- Royalen 697 and Royalen
563). X-ray deposit spectra and EPDM - Royalen 697 are
definitely similar and exhibit intensive diffuse scattering
in angles 2θ being typical for crystalline reflexes 100 and
200 of LDPE orthorhombic lattice but differ from PE
spectra by the presence of intensive diffuse halo with
maxima at 2θ about 400. As it was shown before for
ethylene copolymers with 1- octene in this area there
appeared reflexes of PE hexagonal crystal mesophase
[15]. With propylene concentration increase during
synthesis there is no hexagonal structuring (Figure 3,
fragment EPDM Royalen 563).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. MSCE
Calorimetric characteristics shown at Figure 4 are
more informative. For example on “A” deposit melting
curve there are two heat-absorbent peaks with maxima
21,4 °C and 44,1 °C, but on the cooling curve the
crystallization peak is 27,4 °C and subsequent monotonic
crystallization. When analyzing “B” deposits the melt
maxima are at 19,2 °C and 43,9 °C, crystallization peak
has maximum at 42,8 °C and also with subsequent
monotonic crystallization. Low temperature maximum
enthalpy values are not correct as it is evident that after
thermization at 10 °C and prior to temperature increase
the portion of crystallites is in molten state. Thermal
characteristics are similar to those described in paper [16]
for ethylene-octene copolymer with 0,857 g\cm3 density,
but they differ from data for ultra branching PE with
0,895 g\cm3 density by the lack of high temperature
heat-absorbent peak with Tmax. about 110 °C.
Similar calorimetric curves for fully amorphous
EPDM - Royalen 563 have no crystallization and melting
maxima and there observed only glass transition areas
and transition to visco-elastic state respectively.
3. Conclusion
- It is established that in actual process conditions for
ethylene polymerization performance in tubular reactors
there are areas with a number of parameters providing
high branching PE (VLDPE type) synthesis;
- Routine different MFI PE grade production condition
variations permit to change polymer density significantly
up to ultra low one;
- Quantitative test of polymeric deposit structure by
NMR13C spectroscopy and gel-chromatography is
required for branch classification, understanding of
predominate chain-transfer mechanisms and accordingly
those reactor areas where conditions mostly appropriate
for this mechanisms realization exist, for example in
polymer wall laminar flow as assumed in paper [17 ];
10 20 30 40 50
10 20 30 40 5010 15 20 25 30 35 4045 50
10 20 30 40 50
10 20 30 40 50
sample Asample B
EPDM Royalene 697
EPDM Royalene 563
Intensity (CPS)
2 theta (deg)
Intensity (CPS)
2 theta (deg)
2 theta (deg)2 theta (deg)
2 theta (deg)
Figure 3. WAXS spectra fragments of samples tested.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. MSCE
-50 050 100
50100 150 200
-50 050100 150 200
50100 150 200
-50 050100 150 200
-50 050100 150
Temperature (oC)
Temperature (oC)
Temperature (oC)
Temperature (oC)
Temperature (oC)
Temperature (oC)
heat loss
heat loss
Figure 4. Calorimetric crystallization(left) and melting (right) curves of deposits “A”(1), “B”(2) and EPDM Royalene 563
- This process development for running tubular plants
of 5-8 kty capacity could be an alternative for converting
into production of high-marginal products;
- Process improvement for the purpose of minimizing
such areas at large-scale plants would provide first of all
the enhancement of PE physical and mechanical
properties as well as HP recycle system operation
4. Acknowledgements
The authors extend appreciation to professor A. Ozerin
and professor S. Chvalun of their involvement into the
consideration of results and their consultations.
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