Skip to Content

Increasing the efficiency and safety of global clean fuel production

Kenneth Seddon
Kenneth Seddon
School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Professor Gosia Swadzba-Kwasny
Professor Gosia Swadzba-Kwasny
School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Refinery plant

Researchers at Queen’s have provided long-term research expertise to Chevron, the second largest oil company in America, to support the development of ISOALKYTM Technology, a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to hydrofluoric acid (HF). The technology represents the most significant development in alkylate gasoline production in 75 years, positively impacting the global production of clean fuels for decades to come.

Research Challenge

MAKING FUEL PRODUCTION CLEANER AND SAFER WITH IONIC LIQUIDS

Alkylate gasoline is the cleanest and most efficient gasoline blending component due to its low emissions and high octane number. As far as fossil fuels go, it is both green and economically attractive. One of the main drawbacks of the established process for alkylate gasoline production is the use of hydrofluoric acid (HF) as a catalyst. HF is an extremely corrosive and poisonous volatile liquid, making its safe use within plant operations demanding and costly.

Our Approach

THE DEVELOPMENT OF ISOALKYTM TECHNOLOGY

The QUILL (Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories) research centre at Queen’s was established in 1999 to explore the potential of ionic liquids in industrial applications. The Centre was co-founded by Professor Kenneth R.Seddon OBE (1950- 2018) and supported by an Industrial Advisory Board of 17 companies, including Chevron.

ISOALKYTM technology relies on catalysis with a Lewis acidic ionic liquid, containing chloroaluminate anions as the Lewis acidic species. Research by QUILL and its national and international collaborators covers all aspects of ionic liquids studies, from fundamental investigations on physical properties, inorganic chemistry in/of ionic liquids, through spectroscopic and catalytic studies, fundamental chemistry related to catalyst regeneration and recycle. It was this breadth of expertise that enabled QUILL to support Chevron at all stages of ISOALKYTM development.

Compared to conventional acid catalysts such as hydrofluoric acid, the ISOALKY™ Catalyst exhibits several advantages  

  • Non-volatile, ionic liquid catalyst (improvement over HF)
  • Smallest catalyst inventory (compared to both processes)
  • Integrated on-line regeneration of catalyst (improvement over H2SO4)
  • Eliminates polymer incineration
  • Reduces caustic solution waste
  • Major improvement in refinery safety both for individual operators and neighbouring refinery process unit

“The standout expertise of the research team led by Professor Seddon, and later by Dr Swadzba-Kwasny, has been crucial in supporting the development of this truly innovative technology.”

Chevron Principal Scientist

What impact did it make?

A GAME-CHANGING BREAKTHOUGH IN THE PRODUCTION OF CLEAN FUELS

The ISOALKY™ Technology is the first successful new technology in alkylate gasoline production in 75 years and is expected to significantly impact the global production of clean fuels in decades to come.

The non-volatile acidic ionic liquid used in ISOALKYTM is inherently safer and easier to contain, making the process cheaper and safer, in addition to yielding high quality fuel.

The technology was awarded the Platts Global Energy Award for “Breakthrough Solution of the Year” in December, 2017: Judges welcomed it as a “game changer” that solves a big environmental issue for refiners and offers significant market opportunities (…) [with] “immense potential impact” on global production of clean fuels.

In a milestone for the industrialization of ionic liquids, Chevron announced in 2021 it has started up an alkylation unit at its Salt Lake City refinery that uses an ionic liquid catalyst instead of the traditional hydrofluoric or sulfuric acid.

Key Facts
  • ISOALKY™ is a groundbreaking new technology for refiners, and a lower-risk and economical solution compared to conventional liquid acid technologies that produce alkylate.
  • The technology is poised to be a game changer for the refining industry

Our Impact

Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.

  • SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • UN Goal 12 - Responsible consumption and production
  • UN Goal 07 -Affordable and clean energy
  • UN Goal 09 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Impacting in Countries/Regions

Impacted Regions
Impacted Countries

Explore more
Sub-themes
  • Sustainable energy and manufacturing