Patent application title: SYSTEM AND PROCESS FOR PRODUCTION OF BENZOIC ACIDS AND PHTHALIC ACIDS
Abbas Hassan (Sugar Land, TX, US)
Ebrahim Bagherzadeh (Sugar Land, TX, US)
Rayford G. Anthony (College Station, TX, US)
Gregory Borsinger (Chatham, NJ, US)
Aziz Hassan (Sugar Land, TX, US)
H R D CORPORATION
IPC8 Class: AB01J1918FI
Class name: Including internal mixing or stirring means mechanical type stirring means in positive pressure reactor
Publication date: 2012-03-08
Patent application number: 20120058024
Systems disclosed herein may include at least one high shear mixing
device configured to produce a dispersion of oxygen-containing gas
bubbles in toluene liquid phase, wherein the dispersion has a mean bubble
diameter of less than 5 microns; a pump configured to deliver a liquid
stream comprising the toluene to the high shear mixing device; and a
vessel configured to receive the dispersion from the high shear mixing
device and configured to maintain a predetermined pressure and
1. A system for reaction of toluene, the system comprising; at least one
high shear mixing device configured to produce a dispersion of
oxygen-containing gas bubbles in toluene liquid phase, wherein the
dispersion has a mean bubble diameter of less than 1 micron; a pump
configured to deliver a liquid stream comprising the toluene to the high
shear mixing device; and a vessel configured to receive the dispersion
from the high shear mixing device and configured to maintain a
predetermined pressure and temperature.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the high shear mixing device comprises a rotor/stator set having a rotor tip, the mixing device configured for operating at a flow rate of at least 300 L/h and tip speed of at least 22 m/sec.
3. The system of claim 1, wherein the high shear mixing device is configured to provide a tip speed of at least 40 m/sec.
4. The system of claim 1, wherein the high shear device comprises at least one toothed rotor and at least one toothed stator separated by a shear gap width in the range of about 0.025 mm to about 10 mm, and wherein the high shear mixing device is configured to provide an energy expenditure greater than 1000 W/m.sup.3.
5. The system of claim 1, wherein the predetermined pressure is less than about 1013 kPa and the predetermined temperature is less than about 160.degree. C., and wherein at least a portion of the toluene liquid phase is partially oxidized in the vessel to form benzoic acid or 2-, 3- or 4-methylbenzoic acid.
6. The system of claim 5, wherein the mean bubble diameter is less than 400 nm.
7. The system of claim 1, wherein the mean bubble diameter is less than 100 nm.
8. The system of claim 1, wherein the high shear device comprises a rotor/stator set having a rotor tip, and wherein the dispersion is subjected to high shear mixing at a rotor tip speed of at least 22 m/sec.
9. The system of claim 8, wherein the high shear device produces a local pressure of at least about 1034 MPa at the rotor tip.
10. The system of claim 9, wherein the rotor/stator set comprises a gap width in the range of from about 0.025 mm to about 10 mm.
11. A system for production of benzoic acid, the system comprising; at least one high shear mixing device configured to produce a dispersion of oxygen-containing gas bubbles in a toluene liquid phase or a xylene liquid phase, wherein the high shear device comprises a rotor and a stator, and wherein the dispersion has a mean bubble diameter of less than 5 microns; a pump configured for delivering a liquid stream comprising the toluene or the xylene to the high shear mixing device; and a vessel configured to receive the dispersion from the high shear mixing device and configured to maintain a predetermined pressure and a temperature than about 160.degree. C.
12. The system of claim 11, wherein the high shear mixing is configured to operate at a feed flow rate of at least 300 L/h and a tip speed of at least 22 m/sec.
13. The system of claim 12, wherein the high shear mixing device is configured to provide a tip speed of at least 40 m/sec.
14. The system of claim 13, wherein the high shear mixing device is configured to provide an energy expenditure greater than 1000 W/m.sup.3.
15. The system of claim 14, wherein the mean bubble diameter is less than 400 nm.
16. The system of claim 15, wherein the high shear device produces a local pressure of at least about 1034 MPa at the rotor tip.
17. The system of claim 11, wherein the mean bubble diameter is less than 100 nm.
18. The system of claim 11, wherein each of the rotor and the stator comprise a grooved surface, and wherein the rotor and the stator are separated by a shear gap width in the range of about 0.025 mm to about 10 mm.
19. The system of claim 18, wherein a second high shear device is connected in series with the high shear device.
20. The system of claim 18, wherein the dispersion comprises catalyst particles.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 This application is a divisional application of U.S. Ser. No. 12/138,154 filed on Jun. 12, 2008, which application claims the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/946,445 filed Jun. 27, 2007, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/946,504 filed Jun. 27, 2007, the disclosures of which are hereby incorporated herein by reference.
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT
 Not Applicable.
 The present invention generally relates to apparatus and methods for producing benzoic acid via gas/liquid phase partial oxidation of toluene, or for producing methylbenzoic acid isomers and phthalic acid isomers from the corresponding xylene isomers, and more particularly to the acceleration of such reactions by high shear mixing.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Benzoic acid (carboxybenzene) is used to make a large number of chemicals. For example, benzoic acid is used to produce benzoyl chloride, by treatment of benzoic acid with thionyl chloride, phosgene or one of the chlorides of phosphorus. Benzoyl chloride is an important starting material for several benzoic acid derivates like benzyl benzoate, which is used for artificial flavors and insect repellents. Benzoyl peroxide is obtained by treatment of benzoic acid with peroxide. The peroxide is useful as a radical starter in polymerization reactions and also a component in cosmetic products. Benzoate plasticizers, such as the glycol-, diethylengylcol-, and triethyleneglycol esters are obtained by transesterification of methyl benzoate with the corresponding diol. Alternatively these species arise by treatment of benzoylchloride with the diol. These plasticizers are used similarly to those derived from terephthalic acid ester. Phenol is obtained by oxidative decarboxylation of benzoic acid at 300° C. to 400° C. Benzoic acid is also used as a food preservative, and as a constituent of ointments for the treatment of fungal skin diseases and acne.
 The methylbenzoic acids are used in various industrial processes, including the production of chemicals, drugs, paints, and enamels. 4-Methylbenzoic acid (p-toluic acid) is a substituted benzoic acid that is used in the chemical industry to make terephthalic acid, which, in turn, is used industrially to produce polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is an important raw material used in synthetic fibers. It is also used in the manufacture of a wide variety of containers, in thermoforming applications, and in resins combined with glass fiber. 3-methylbenzoic acid (m-toluic acid) is used industrially as a precursor in the production of the insecticide DEET (N,N diethyl-m-toluamide), among other uses. 2-methylbenzoic acid (o-toluic acid) is widely used as a raw material for agricultural chemicals, medicines and polymerization initiators.
 Benzoic acid and the 2-, 3-, and 4-methylbenzoic acid isomers are typically produced by partially oxidizing toluene or o-, m-, and p-xylene, respectively, with oxygen or air. On an industrial scale, both of the methyl groups in p-xylene are oxidized by oxygen or air to produce terephthalic acid (benzene-1,4-dicarboxylic acid or p-phthalic acid). Such processes are strongly influenced by a number of factors, such as temperatures, pressures, and the nature of the catalyst used, if any. Appropriate selection of these factors is important, as selection influences the reaction trend, the reaction velocity, and the overall technical and economic balance of the production, both in terms of yield and catalyst consumption, and also from the point of view of the intricacy and costs of installation and upkeep. These costs are influenced, for example, by the pressures attained, the consumption of thermal energy for reaching desired temperatures, and the intricacy and the number of component parts of the installation. For instance, in many applications it is desirable to enhance the degree of conversion of toluene or xylene. While increasing the reaction pressure may increase reaction rate, it also increases wear of the materials constituting the reactors, the pipings, and the mechanical parts of the plant, as well as any ancillary devices. Most existing processes and production facilities for making benzoic, methylbenzoic acids, and phthalic acids are subject to a variety of constraints such as product yield, plant size, energy consumption and mass flow limitations. Accordingly, there is continuing interest in improving the ways that benzoic acid, methylbenzoic acid isomers, and phthalic acid isomers are produced.
 In accordance with embodiments of the invention, a system is provided that may include at least one high shear mixing device configured to produce a dispersion of oxygen-containing gas bubbles in toluene liquid phase, wherein the dispersion has a mean bubble diameter of less than 1 micron; a pump configured to deliver a liquid stream comprising the toluene to the high shear mixing device; and a vessel configured to receive the dispersion from the high shear mixing device and configured to maintain a predetermined pressure and temperature.
 Other embodiments of the invention pertain to a system for production of benzoic acid that may include at least one high shear mixing device configured to produce a dispersion of oxygen-containing gas bubbles in a toluene liquid phase or a xylene liquid phase, wherein the high shear device comprises a rotor and a stator, and wherein the dispersion has a mean bubble diameter of less than 5 microns; a pump configured for delivering a liquid stream comprising the toluene or the xylene to the high shear mixing device; and a vessel configured to receive the dispersion from the high shear mixing device and configured to maintain a predetermined pressure and a temperature than about 160° C.
 Certain embodiments disclosed herein may potentially provide for more optimal time, temperature and pressure conditions than are otherwise possible, and which potentially increase the rate of the gas/liquid phase process. Certain embodiments of the above-described methods or systems potentially provide overall cost reduction by operating at lower temperature and/or pressure, providing increased product per unit of catalyst consumed, decreased reaction time, and/or reduced capital and/or operating costs. These and other embodiments and potential advantages will be apparent in the following detailed description and drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIG. 1 is a process flow diagram of a process for production of either benzoic acid or methyl benzoic acid, according to certain embodiments of the invention.
 FIG. 2 is a longitudinal cross-section view of a multi-stage high shear device, as employed in an embodiment of the system of FIG. 1.
 The present methods and systems for the production of benzoic acid and 2-, 3-, or 4-methyl benzoic acid via liquid phase partial oxidation of toluene and o-, m-, or p-xylene, respectively, employ an external high shear mechanical device to provide rapid contact and mixing of chemical ingredients in a controlled environment in the reactor/mixer device. Some embodiments of the methods and systems are also suitable for production of the further oxidation products of o-, m-, or p-xylene, or of 2-, 3- or 4-methylbenzoic acid, i.e., 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid, 1,3-benzenedicarboxylic acid, and 1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid, respectively. The high shear device reduces the mass transfer limitations on the reaction and thus increases the overall reaction rate. For the purposes of this disclosure, "xylene" includes the ortho, meta, and para isomers of xylene. The term "methylbenzoic acid" includes the 2-, 3-, and 4-methylbenzoic acid isomers.
 Chemical reactions involving liquids, gases and solids rely on the laws of kinetics that involve time, temperature, and pressure to define the rate of reactions. In cases where it is desirable to react two or more raw materials of different phases (e.g. solid and liquid; liquid and gas; solid, liquid and gas), one of the limiting factors in controlling the rate of reaction involves the contact time of the reactants. In the case of heterogeneously catalyzed reactions there is the additional rate limiting factor of having the reacted products removed from the surface of the catalyst to enable the catalyst to catalyze further reactants. Contact time for the reactants and/or catalyst is often controlled by mixing which provides contact with two or more reactants involved in a chemical reaction. A reactor assembly that comprises an external high shear device or mixer as described herein makes possible decreased mass transfer limitations and thereby allows the reaction to more closely approach kinetic limitations. When reaction rates are accelerated, residence times may be decreased, thereby increasing obtainable throughput. Product yield may be increased as a result of the high shear system and process. Alternatively, if the product yield of an existing process is acceptable, decreasing the required residence time by incorporation of suitable high shear may allow for the use of lower temperatures and/or pressures than conventional processes.
 System for Production of Benzoic Acid or Methylbenzoic Acid. A high shear benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid production system will now be described in relation to FIG. 1, which is a process flow diagram of an embodiment of a high shear system 1 for the production of benzoic acid via partial oxidation of toluene, or for the production of methylbenzoic acid by partial oxidation of xylene. The basic components of a representative system include external high shear mixing device (HSD) 40, vessel 10, and pump 5. As shown in FIG. 1, the high shear device is located external to vessel/reactor 10. Each of these components is further described in more detail below. Line 21 is connected to pump 5 for introducing either toluene or xylene reactant. Line 13 connects pump 5 to HSD 40, and line 18 connects HSD 40 to vessel 10. Line 22 is connected to line 13 for introducing an oxygen-containing gas (e.g., O2 or air). Line 17 is connected to vessel 10 for removal of unreacted toluene or xylene vapor, unreacted oxygen, nitrogen, and other reaction gases. Additional components or process steps may be incorporated between vessel 10 and HSD 40, or ahead of pump 5 or HSD 40, if desired. For example, line 72 may be connected to line 21 or line 13, to provide for multi-pass operation, if desired.
 High Shear Mixing Device. External high shear mixing device (HSD) 40, also sometimes referred to as a high shear mixer, is configured for receiving an inlet stream via line 13, comprising toluene or xylene and molecular oxygen. Alternatively, HSD 40 may be configured for receiving the liquid and gaseous reactant streams via separate inlet lines (not shown). Although only one high shear device is shown in FIG. 1, it should be understood that some embodiments of the system may have two or more high shear mixing devices arranged either in series or parallel flow. HSD 40 is a mechanical device that utilizes one or more generators comprising a rotor/stator combination, each of which having a fixed gap between the stator and rotor. HSD 40 is configured in such a way that it is capable of producing submicron (i.e., less than 1 micron in diameter) and micron-sized bubbles in a reactant mixture flowing through the mixer. The high shear mixer comprises an enclosure or housing so that the pressure and temperature of the reaction mixture may be controlled.
 High shear mixing devices are generally divided into three general classes, based upon their ability to mix fluids. Mixing is the process of reducing the size of particles or inhomogeneous species within the fluid. One metric for the degree or thoroughness of mixing is the energy density per unit volume that the mixing device generates to disrupt the fluid particles. The classes are distinguished based on delivered energy densities. Three classes of industrial mixers having sufficient energy density to consistently produce mixtures or emulsions with particle sizes in the range of submicron to 50 microns include homogenization valve systems, colloid mills and high speed mixers. In the first class of high energy devices, referred to as homogenization valve systems, fluid to be processed is pumped under very high pressure through a narrow-gap valve into a lower pressure environment. The pressure gradients across the valve and the resulting turbulence and cavitation act to break-up any particles in the fluid. These valve systems are most commonly used in milk homogenization and can yield average particle sizes in the 0-1 micron range.
 At the opposite end of the energy density spectrum is the third class of devices referred to as low energy devices. These systems usually have paddles or fluid rotors that turn at high speed in a reservoir of fluid to be processed, which in many of the more common applications is a food product. These low energy systems are customarily used when average particle sizes of greater than 20 microns are acceptable in the processed fluid.
 Between the low energy devices and homogenization valve systems, in terms of the mixing energy density delivered to the fluid, are colloid mills, which are classified as intermediate energy devices. A typical colloid mill configuration includes a conical or disk rotor that is separated from a complementary, liquid-cooled stator by a closely-controlled rotor-stator gap, which is commonly between 0.0254-10.16 mm (0.001-0.40 inch). Rotors are usually driven by an electric motor through a direct drive or belt mechanism. As the rotor rotates at high rates, it pumps fluid between the outer surface of the rotor and the inner surface of the stator, and shear forces generated in the gap process the fluid. Many colloid mills with proper adjustment achieve average particle sizes of 0.1-25 microns in the processed fluid. These capabilities render colloid mills appropriate for a variety of applications including colloid and oil/water-based emulsion processing such as that required for cosmetics, mayonnaise, or silicone/silver amalgam formation, to roofing-tar mixing.
 An approximation of energy input into the fluid (kW/L/min) can be estimated by measuring the motor energy (kW) and fluid output (L/min). Tip speed is the circumferential distance traveled by the tip of the rotor per unit of time. Tip speed is thus a function of the rotor diameter and the rotational frequency. Tip speed (in meters per minute, for example) may be calculated by multiplying the circumferential distance transcribed by the rotor tip, 2πR, where R is the radius of the rotor (in meters, for example) times the frequency of revolution (in revolutions per minute). A colloid mill, for example, may have a tip speed in excess of 22.9 msec (4500 ft/min) and may exceed 40 msec (7900 ft/min). For the purposes of this disclosure, the term "high shear" refers to mechanical rotor stator devices (e.g., colloid mills or rotor/stator mixers) that are capable of tip speeds in excess of 5.1 msec. (1000 ft/min) and require an external mechanically driven power device to drive energy into the stream of materials to be reacted. For example, in HSD 40, a tip speed in excess of 22.9 m/sec (4500 ft/min) is achievable, and may exceed 40 m/sec (7900 ft/min). In some embodiments, HSD 40 is capable of delivering at least 300 L/h with a power consumption of about 1.5 kW at a nominal tip speed of at least 22.9 m/sec (4500 ft/min).
 HSD 40 combines high tip speeds with a very small shear gap to produce significant shear on the material being processed. The amount of shear will be dependent on the viscosity of the fluid. Accordingly, a local region of elevated pressure and temperature is created at the tip of the rotor during operation of the high shear device. In some cases the locally elevated pressure is about 1034.2 MPa (150,000 psi). In some cases the locally elevated temperature is about 500° C. In some cases these local pressure and temperature elevations may persist for nano or pico seconds. In some embodiments, the energy expenditure of the high shear mixer is greater than 1000 W/m3. In embodiments, the energy expenditure of HSD 40 is in the range of from about 3000 W/m3 to about 7500 W/m3. The shear rate is the tip speed divided by the shear gap width (minimal clearance between the rotor and stator). The shear rate generated in HSD 40 may be greater than 20,000 s-1. In some embodiments the shear rate is at least 1,600,000 s-1. In embodiments, the shear rate generated by HSD 40 is in the range of from 20,000 s-1 to 100,000 s-1. For example, in one application the rotor tip speed is about 40 m/sec (7900 ft/min) and the shear gap width is 0.0254 mm (0.001 inch), producing a shear rate of 1,600,000 s-1. In another application the rotor tip speed is about 22.9 m/sec (4500 ft/min) and the shear gap width is 0.0254 mm (0.001 inch), producing a shear rate of about 901,600 s-1.
 HSD 40 is capable of highly dispersing or transporting oxygen into a main liquid phase comprising toluene or xylene, in some cases together with a soluble catalyst or catalyst slurry, with which it would normally be immiscible, at conditions such that at least a portion of the oxygen reacts with the toluene or xylene to produce a product stream comprising benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid, respectively. In some embodiments, HSD 40 comprises a colloid mill. Suitable colloidal mills are manufactured by IKA® Works, Inc. Wilmington, N.C. and APV North America, Inc. Wilmington, Mass., for example. In some instances, HSD 40 comprises the Dispax Reactor® of IKA® Works, Inc. Several models are available having various inlet/outlet connections, horsepower, nominal tip speeds, output rpm, and nominal flow rate. Selection of a particular device will depend on specific throughput requirements for the intended application, and on the desired bubble size in the outlet dispersion from the high shear mixer. In some embodiments, selection of the appropriate mixing tools (generators) within HSD 40 may allow for catalyst size reduction/increase in catalyst surface area.
 The high shear device comprises at least one revolving element that creates the mechanical force applied to the reactants. The high shear device comprises at least one stator and at least one rotor separated by a clearance. For example, the rotors may be conical or disk shaped and may be separated from a complementary-shaped stator; both the rotor and stator may comprise a plurality of circumferentially-spaced teeth. In some embodiments, the stator(s) are adjustable to obtain the desired gap between the rotor and the stator of each generator (rotor/stator set). Grooves in the rotor and/or stator may change directions in alternate stages for increased turbulence. Each generator may be driven by any suitable drive system configured for providing the necessary rotation.
 In some embodiments, the minimum clearance between the stator and the rotor is in the range of from about 0.0254 mm to about 3.175 mm (about 0.001 inch to about 0.125 inch). In certain embodiments, the minimum clearance between the stator and rotor is about 1.524 mm (0.060 inch). In certain configurations, the minimum clearance between the rotor and stator is at least 1.778 mm (0.07 inch). The shear rate produced by the high shear mixer may vary with longitudinal position along the flow pathway. In some embodiments, the rotor is set to rotate at a speed commensurate with the diameter of the rotor and the desired tip speed. In some embodiments, the colloidal mill has a fixed clearance between the stator and rotor. Alternatively, the colloid mill has adjustable clearance.
 In some embodiments, HSD 40 comprises a single stage dispersing chamber (i.e., a single rotor/stator combination, a single generator). In some embodiments, high shear device 40 is a multiple stage inline disperser and comprises a plurality of generators. In certain embodiments, HSD 40 comprises at least two generators. In other embodiments, high shear device 40 comprises at least 3 high shear generators. In some embodiments, high shear device 40 is a multistage mixer whereby the shear rate (which varies proportionately with tip speed and inversely with rotor/stator gap) varies with longitudinal position along the flow pathway, as further described herein below.
 In some embodiments, each stage of the external high shear device has interchangeable mixing tools, offering flexibility. For example, the DR 2000/4 Dispax Reactor® of IKA® Works, Inc. Wilmington, N.C. and APV North America, Inc. Wilmington, Mass., comprises a three stage dispersing module. This module may comprise up to three rotor/stator combinations (generators), with choice of fine, medium, coarse, and super-fine for each stage. This allows for creation of dispersions having a narrow distribution of the desired bubble size. In some embodiments, each of the stages is operated with super-fine generator. In some embodiments, at least one of the generator sets has a rotor/stator minimum clearance of greater than about 5.08 mm (0.20 inch). In some embodiments, at least one of the generator sets has a minimum rotor/stator clearance of greater than about 1.778 mm (0.07 inch). In some embodiments the rotors are 60 mm and the are stators 64 mm in diameter, providing a clearance of about 4 mm.
 Referring now to FIG. 2, there is presented a longitudinal cross-section of a suitable high shear device 200. High shear device 200 is a dispersing device comprising three stages or rotor-stator combinations, 220, 230, and 240. Three rotor/stator sets or generators 220, 230, and 240 are aligned in series along drive input 250. The first generator 220 comprises rotor 222 and stator 227. The second generator 230 comprises rotor 223, and stator 228; the third generator 240 comprises rotor 224 and stator 229. For each generator the rotor is rotatably driven by input 250 and rotates, as indicated by arrow 265, about axis 260. Stator 227 is fixedly coupled to high shear device wall 255. Each generator has a shear gap which is the distance between the rotor and the stator. First generator 220, comprises a first shear gap 225; second generator 230 comprises a second shear gap 235; and third generator 240 comprises a third shear gap 245. In some embodiments, shear gaps 225, 235, 245 are between about 0.025 mm and 10.0 mm wide. In some embodiments, the process comprises utilization of a high shear device 200 wherein the gaps 225, 235, 245 are between about 0.5 mm and about 2.5 mm. In certain instances the gap is maintained at about 1.5 mm. Alternatively, the gaps 225, 235, 245 are different for generators 220, 230, 240. In certain instances, the gap 225 for the first generator 220 is greater than about the gap 235 for the second generator 230, which is in turn greater than about the gap 245 for the third generator. As mentioned above, the generators of each stage may be interchangeable, offering flexibility.
 Generators 220, 230, and 240 may comprise a coarse, medium, fine, and super-fine characterization. Rotors 222, 223, and 224 and stators 227, 228, and 229 may be toothed designs. Each generator may comprise two or more sets of rotor-stator teeth. Rotors 222, 223, and 224 may comprise a number of rotor teeth circumferentially spaced about the circumference of each rotor. Stators 227, 228, and 229 may comprise a complementary number of stator teeth circumferentially spaced about the circumference of each stator. In embodiments, the inner diameter of the rotor is about 11.8 cm. In embodiments, the outer diameter of the stator is about 15.4 cm. In certain embodiments, each of three stages is operated with a super-fine generator, comprising a shear gap of between about 0.025 mm and about 3 mm. For applications in which solid particles are to be sent through high shear device 200, shear gap width may be selected for reduction in particle size and increase in particle surface area. In some embodiments, the disperser is configured so that the shear rate will increase stepwise longitudinally along the direction of the flow. The IKA® model DR 2000/4, for example, comprises a belt drive, 4M generator, PTFE sealing ring, inlet flange 25.4 mm (1 inch) sanitary clamp, outlet flange 19 mm (3/4 inch) sanitary clamp, 2HP power, output speed of 7900 rpm, flow capacity (water) approximately 300-700 L/h (depending on generator), a tip speed of from 9.4-41 msec (1850 ft/min to 8070 ft/min).
 Vessel. Vessel or reactor 10 is any type of vessel in which a multiphase reaction can be propagated to carry out the above-described conversion reaction(s). For instance, a continuous or semi-continuous stirred tank reactor, or one or more batch reactors may be employed in series or in parallel. In some applications vessel 10 may be a tower reactor, and in others a tubular reactor or multi-tubular reactor. A catalyst inlet line 15 may be connected to vessel 10 for receiving a catalyst solution or slurry during operation of the system.
 Vessel 10 may include one or more of the following components: stirring system, heating and/or cooling capabilities, pressure measurement instrumentation, temperature measurement instrumentation, one or more injection points, and level regulator (not shown), as are known in the art of reaction vessel design. For example, a stirring system may include a motor driven mixer. A heating and/or cooling apparatus may comprise, for example, a heat exchanger. Alternatively, as much of the conversion reaction may occur within HSD 40 in some embodiments, vessel 10 may serve primarily as a storage vessel in some cases. Although generally less desired, in some applications vessel 10 may be omitted, particularly if multiple high shear mixers/reactors are employed in series, as further described below.
 Heat Transfer Devices. In addition to the above-mentioned heating/cooling capabilities of vessel 10, other external or internal heat transfer devices for heating or cooling a process stream are also contemplated in variations of the embodiments illustrated in FIG. 1. Some suitable locations for one or more such heat transfer devices are between pump 5 and HSD 40, between HSD 40 and vessel 10, and between vessel 10 and pump 5 when system 1 is operated in multi-pass mode. Some non-limiting examples of such heat transfer devices are shell, tube, plate, and coil heat exchangers, as are known in the art.
 Pumps. Pump 5 is configured for either continuous or semi-continuous operation, and may be any suitable pumping device that is capable of providing greater than 203 kPa (2 atm) pressure, preferably greater than 304 kPa (3 atm) pressure, to allow controlled flow through HSD 40 and system 1. For example, a Roper Type 1 gear pump, Roper Pump Company (Commerce Ga.) Dayton Pressure Booster Pump Model 2P372E, Dayton Electric Co (Niles, Ill.) is one suitable pump. Preferably, all contact parts of the pump comprise stainless steel. In some embodiments of the system, pump 5 is capable of pressures greater than about 2027 kPa (20 atm). In addition to pump 5, one or more additional, high pressure pump (not shown) may be included in the system illustrated in FIG. 1. For example, a booster pump, which may be similar to pump 5, may be included between HSD 40 and vessel 10 for boosting the pressure into vessel 10. As another example, a supplemental feed pump, which may be similar to pump 5, may be included for introducing additional reactants or catalyst into vessel 10. As still another example, a compressor type pump may be positioned between line 17 and HSD 40 for recycling gas from vessel 10 to an inlet of the high shear unit.
 In some embodiments, a high shear system 1 further includes a fractionating column 50 connected to vessel 10 via line 16, as illustrated in FIG. 1. A preheater 30 may be included in line 16. Bottom line 55, intermediate line 51 and head line 53 are connected to column 50 for removal of benzoic acid, small amounts of water and by-products, and unconverted toluene, respectively. Line 53 connects to a condenser 60, which in turn is connected to settling tank or settler 70 via line 62. Intermediates line 51 also connects to settling tank 70. Line 75 is connected to settler 70 for removal of an aqueous phase, and line 72 is connected to settler 70 for removal of a supernatant toluene or xylene phase. If desired, line 72 may be connected to line 21 for recycling the unreacted toluene or xylene and intermediates into HSD 40 via pump 5.
 Production of Benzoic Acid or Methylbenzoic Acids. In operation for the catalytic production of benzoic acid from toluene, or, alternatively, for the independent production of 2-, 3-, or 4-methylbenzoic acid from o-, m-, or p-xylene, respectively, a dispersible oxygen-containing gas stream is introduced into system 1 via line 22, and combined in line 13 with either a toluene- or xylene-containing liquid stream, depending upon whether benzoic acid or a particular isomer of methylbenzoic acid, or mixture of such isomers, is the desired product. For ease of reference, the o-, m-, and p-xylene isomers are individually and collectively referred to as "xylene" herein, although it should be understood that a specific isomer or combination of isomers could be substituted in place of the generic xylene. Likewise, use of the generic term "methylbenzoic acid" is this disclosure represents each of the 2-, 3- and 4-methylbenzoic acid isomers, individually and collectively, where the context allows. The oxygen-containing gas may be air, oxygen, or any other suitable molecular oxygen-containing gas, or mixture of gases, for example. Alternatively, the oxygen-containing gas may be fed directly into HSD 40, instead of being combined with the liquid reactant (i.e., toluene or xylene) in line 13. Pump 5 is operated to pump the liquid reactant (toluene or xylene) through line 21, and to build pressure and feed HSD 40, providing a controlled flow throughout high shear mixer (HSD) 40 and high shear system 1. In some embodiments, pump 5 increases the pressure of the toluene or xylene stream to greater than 203 kPa (2 atm), preferably greater than about 304 kPa (3 atm). In some embodiments the pressure is about 1013 kPa (10 atm).
 After pumping, the oxygen and liquid reactants are mixed within HSD 40, which serves to create a fine dispersion of the oxygen-containing gas in the toluene or xylene. In some embodiments it may create a fine mixture, emulsion or dispersion of the reactants, which may also include catalyst. As used herein, the term "dispersion" refers to a liquefied mixture that contains two distinguishable substances (or phases) that will not readily mix and dissolve together. A dispersion comprises a continuous phase (or matrix), which holds therein discontinuous droplets, bubbles, and/or particles of the other phase or substance. The term dispersion may thus refer to foams comprising gas bubbles suspended in a liquid continuous phase, emulsions in which droplets of a first liquid are dispersed throughout a continuous phase comprising a second liquid with which the first liquid is immiscible, and continuous liquid phases throughout which solid particles are distributed. The term "dispersion" encompasses continuous liquid phases throughout which gas bubbles are distributed, continuous liquid phases throughout which solid particles (e.g., solid catalyst) are distributed, continuous phases of a first liquid throughout which droplets of a second liquid that is substantially insoluble in the continuous phase are distributed, and liquid phases throughout which any one or a combination of solid particles, immiscible liquid droplets, and gas bubbles are distributed. Hence, a dispersion can exist as a homogeneous mixture in some cases (e.g., liquid/liquid phase), or as a heterogeneous mixture (e.g., gas/liquid, solid/liquid, or gas/solid/liquid), depending on the nature of the materials selected for combination.
 In HSD 40, the oxygen-containing gas and toluene or xylene are highly dispersed such that nanobubbles, submicron-sized bubbles, and microbubbles of the gaseous reactants are formed for superior dissolution into solution and enhancement of reactant mixing. For example, disperser IKA® model DR 2000/4, a high shear, three stage dispersing device configured with three rotors in combination with stators, aligned in series, is used to create the dispersion of dispersible oxygen-containing gas in liquid medium comprising toluene or xylene (i.e., "the reactants"). The rotor/stator sets may be configured as illustrated in FIG. 2, for example. For some applications, the direction of rotation of the generators may be opposite that shown by arrow 265 (e.g., clockwise or counterclockwise about axis of rotation 260). The combined reactants enter the high shear mixer via line 13 and enter a first stage rotor/stator combination having circumferentially spaced first stage shear openings. In some applications, the direction of flow of the reactant stream entering inlet 205 corresponds to the axis of rotation 260. The coarse dispersion exiting the first stage enters the second rotor/stator stage, having second stage shear openings. The reduced bubble-size dispersion emerging from the second stage enters the third stage rotor/stator combination having third stage shear openings. The dispersion exits the high shear mixer via line 18. In some embodiments, the shear rate increases stepwise longitudinally along the direction of the flow. For example, in some embodiments, the shear rate in the first rotor/stator stage is greater than the shear rate in subsequent stage(s). In other embodiments, the shear rate is substantially constant along the direction of the flow, with the stage or stages being the same. If the high shear mixer includes a PTFE seal, for example, the seal may be cooled using any suitable technique that is known in the art. For example, the reactant stream flowing in line 13 may be used to cool the seal and in so doing be preheated as desired prior to entering the high shear mixer.
 The rotor of HSD 40 is set to rotate at a speed commensurate with the diameter of the rotor and the desired tip speed. As described above, the high shear mixer (e.g., colloid mill) has either a fixed clearance between the stator and rotor or has adjustable clearance. HSD 40 serves to intimately mix the oxygen-containing gas and the reactant liquid (i.e., toluene or xylene). In some embodiments of the process, the transport resistance of the reactants is reduced by operation of the high shear mixer such that the velocity of the reaction is increased by greater than a factor of about 5. In some embodiments, the velocity of the reaction is increased by at least a factor of 10. In some embodiments, the velocity is increased by a factor in the range of about 10 to about 100 fold. In some embodiments, HSD 40 delivers at least 300 L/h with a power consumption of 1.5 kW at a nominal tip speed of at least 22.9 msec (4500 ft/min), and which may exceed 40 msec (7900 ft/min). In some embodiments, the mixture is subjected to a shear rate greater than 20,000 s-1.
 Although measurement of instantaneous temperature and pressure at the tip of a rotating shear unit or revolving element in HSD 40 is difficult, it is estimated that the localized temperature seen by the intimately mixed reactants is in excess of 500° C. and at pressures in excess of 500 kg/cm2 under cavitation conditions. The high shear mixing results in dispersion of the oxygen-containing gas in micron or submicron-sized bubbles (i.e., mean diameter less than 1 micron). In some embodiments, the resultant dispersion has an average bubble size less than about 1.5 μm. Accordingly, the dispersion exiting HSD 40 via line 18 comprises micron and/or submicron-sized gas bubbles. In some embodiments, the mean bubble size is less than one micron. In some embodiments, the mean bubble size is in the range of about 0.4 μm to about 1.5 μm. In some embodiments, the mean bubble size is less than about 400 nm, is in the range of about 200 nm to about 400 nm, or is about 100 nm in some cases. In many embodiments, the microbubble dispersion is able to remain dispersed at atmospheric pressure for at least 15 minutes.
 Once dispersed, the resulting gas/toluene dispersion or gas/xylene dispersion exits HSD 40 via line 18 and feeds into vessel 10, as illustrated in FIG. 1. As a result of the intimate mixing of the reactants prior to entering vessel 10, a significant portion of the chemical reaction may take place in HSD 40, with or without the presence of a catalyst. Accordingly, in some embodiments, reactor/vessel 10 may be used primarily for heating and separation of volatile reaction products from the benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid product. Alternatively, or additionally, vessel 10 may serve as a primary reaction vessel where most of the benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid product is produced. Vessel/reactor 10 may be operated in either continuous or semi-continuous flow mode, or it may be operated in batch mode. The contents of vessel 10 may be maintained at a specified reaction temperature using heating and/or cooling capabilities (e.g., cooling coils) and temperature measurement instrumentation. Pressure in the vessel may be monitored using suitable pressure measurement instrumentation, and the level of reactants in the vessel may be controlled using a level regulator (not shown), employing techniques that are known to those of skill in the art. The contents are stirred continuously or semi-continuously.
 Catalyst. If a catalyst is used to promote the partial oxidation reaction, it may be introduced into the vessel via line 15, as an aqueous or nonaqueous slurry or stream. Alternatively, or additionally, catalyst may be added elsewhere in the system 1. For example, catalyst solution or slurry may be injected into line 21. In some embodiments, line 21 may contain a flowing toluene or xylene stream and/or toluene- or xylene-containing recycle stream from vessel 10, via line 72, which may be connected to line 21. A suitable soluble catalyst may be based on a metal salt or oxide, such as a cobalt salt, e.g., cobalt acetate, cobalt naphthenate, cobalt benzoate, cobalt oenanthate, and combinations thereof. In some embodiments, catalyst is present in vessel 10 at a concentration of from about 500 ppm to about 3000 ppm (parts per million), expressed in terms of parts of metal with respect to the toluene or xylene to be oxidized. In some embodiments, the catalyst is added continuously to vessel 10 via line 15. Without wishing to be limited by theory, it is believed that sub-micron particles or bubbles dispersed in a liquid undergo movement primarily through Brownian motion effects. The bubbles in the product dispersion created by HSD 40 may have greater mobility through boundary layers of undissolved catalyst particles, thereby facilitating and accelerating the catalytic reaction through enhanced transport of reactants.
 The bulk or global operating temperature of the reactants is desirably maintained below their flash points. In some embodiments, the operating conditions of system 1 comprise a temperature in the range of from about 100° C. to about 230° C. In embodiments, the temperature is in the range of from about 160° C. to 180° C. In specific embodiments, the reaction temperature in vessel 10, in particular, is in the range of from about 155° C. to about 160° C. In some embodiments, the reaction pressure in vessel 10 is in the range of from about 203 kPa (2 atm) to about 5573 kPa-6080 kPa (55-60 atm). In some embodiments, reaction pressure is in the range of from about 811 kPa (8 atm) to about 1520 kPa (15 atm).
 If desired, the dispersion may be further processed prior to entering vessel 10. In vessel 10, benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid production occurs via catalytic partial oxidation. The contents of the vessel are stirred continuously or semi-continuously, the temperature of the reactants is controlled (e.g., using a heat exchanger), and the fluid level inside vessel 10 is regulated using standard techniques. Benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid may be produced either continuously, semi-continuously or batch wise, as desired for a particular application. Any reaction gas that is produced exits reactor 10 via gas line 17. This gas stream may comprise unreacted toluene or xylene vapor, nitrogen and oxygen, for example. Preferably the reactants are selected so that the gas stream comprises less than about 6% oxygen by weight. In some embodiments, the reaction gas stream in line 17 comprises from about 1% to about 4% oxygen by weight. The reaction gas removed via line 17 may be further treated, and the components may be recycled, as desired. For example, all or a portion of the gases may be returned to HSD 40 by injection into line 13.
 The reaction product stream comprising non-converted liquid toluene, benzoic acid, benzaldehyde, and other derivatives and byproducts exits vessel 10 by way of at least one line 16. Likewise, when xylene serves as the liquid reactant, the corresponding reaction product stream comprises non-converted xylene, methylbenzoic acid, and any derivatives and byproducts. The benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid may be recovered and treated as known to those of skill in the art. For example, suitable further treatments are described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,578,511 and UK Patent No. 1,219,453. For example, the product stream flowing through line 16 may comprise from about 20% to about 35% benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid (by weight), and is heated in preheater 30 and fed to a fractionating column 50, as illustrated in FIG. 1. Fractionating column 50 yields a benzoic or methylbenzoic acid fraction 55 which is removed and withdrawn from bottoms line 55. Column 50 also yields an intermediates fraction and a heads fraction, which contain unconverted toluene or xylene and small amounts of water and by-products, respectively. The heads fraction is removed via line 53, condensed in condenser 60, and sent to settling tank 70 via line 62. The intermediates fraction is also fed into settler 70 where it is combined with the condensate from condenser 60 and line 62. In settler 70, an aqueous phase settles out and is discharged via line 75. A supernatant toluene or xylene phase in settling tank 70 may be recycled into system 1 by returning the toluene or xylene phase, via line 72, to line 21, for example.
 Multiple Pass Operation. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the system is configured for single pass operation, wherein the output from vessel 10 goes directly to further processing for recovery of benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid product. In some embodiments it may be desirable to pass the contents of vessel 10, or a liquid fraction containing unreacted toluene or xylene, through HSD 40 during a second pass. In this case, line 16 is connected to line 21, and the recycle stream from vessel 10 is pumped by pump 5 into line 13 and thence into HSD 40. Additional oxygen-containing gas may be injected via line 22 into line 13, or it may be added directly into the high shear mixer (not shown).
 Multiple High Shear Mixing Devices. In some embodiments, two or more high shear devices like HSD 40, or configured differently, are aligned in series, and are used to further enhance the reaction. Their operation may be in either batch or continuous mode. In some instances in which a single pass or "once through" process is desired, the use of multiple high shear devices in series may also be advantageous. In some embodiments where multiple high shear devices are operated in series, vessel 10 may be omitted. When multiple high shear devices are operated in series, additional reactant(s) may be injected into the inlet feed stream of each device. In some embodiments, multiple high shear devices 40 are operated in parallel, and the outlet dispersions therefrom are introduced into one or more vessel 10.
 Production of Phthalic Acids. If desired, the composition of the initial oxygen and xylene reactants used in the above-described methods may be modified so as to provide an increased amount of oxygen, or to provide increased exposure of the xylene to oxygen in the dispersion, compared to the partial oxidation reaction conditions. In this case, the o-, m-, or p-xylene may be converted directly to 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid (phthalic acid), 1,3-benzenedicarboxylic acid (isophthalic acid), or 1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid (terephthalic acid or p-phthalic acid), depending on which xylene isomer is used as the feed stock. If the process is operated in recycle or multiple pass mode, any unreacted o-, m-, or p-xylene and partial oxidation product (i.e., 2-, 3- or 4-methylbenzoic acid) may be subjected to further oxidization, if desired, by supplying additional oxygen to the reactant stream entering HSD 40, or extended processing in HSD 40. This causes the second methyl group of the xylene isomer(s) to be oxidized to the carboxylate, to form the corresponding oxidation product(s) 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid, 1,3-benzenedicarboxylic acid, or 1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid product.
 The application of enhanced mixing of the reactants by HSD 40 potentially causes greater conversion of toluene to benzoic acid, or greater conversion of xylene to methylbenzoic acid, or to the corresponding phthalic acid, in various embodiments of the method. In some embodiments, the enhanced mixing potentiates an increase in throughput of the process stream. In some embodiments, the high shear mixing device is incorporated into an established process, thereby enabling an increase in production (i.e., greater throughput). In contrast to some methods that attempt to increase the degree of conversion of toluene or xylene by simply increasing reactor pressures, the superior dispersion and/or dissolution provided by external high shear mixing may allow in many cases a decrease in overall operating pressure while maintaining or even increasing reaction rate. Without wishing to be limited to a particular theory, it is believed that the level or degree of high shear mixing is sufficient to increase rates of mass transfer and may also produce localized non-ideal conditions that enable reactions to occur that might not otherwise be expected to occur based on Gibbs free energy predictions. Localized non ideal conditions are believed to occur within the high shear device resulting in increased temperatures and pressures with the most significant increase believed to be in localized pressures. The increase in pressures and temperatures within the high shear device are instantaneous and localized and quickly revert back to bulk or average system conditions once exiting the high shear device. In some cases, the high shear mixing device induces cavitation of sufficient intensity to dissociate one or more of the reactants into free radicals, which may intensify a chemical reaction or allow a reaction to take place at less stringent conditions than might otherwise be required. Cavitation may also increase rates of transport processes by producing local turbulence and liquid micro-circulation (acoustic streaming). An overview of the application of cavitation phenomenon in chemical/physical processing applications is provided by Gogate et al., "Cavitation: A technology on the horizon," Current Science 91 (No. 1): 35-46 (2006). The high shear mixing device of certain embodiments of the present system and methods is operated under what is believed to be cavitation conditions effective to dissociate the oxygen and toluene or isomeric xylene reactants into free radicals, which then form into the corresponding benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid isomer, or phthalic acid isomer product.
 In some embodiments, the system and methods described herein enable design of a smaller and/or less capital intensive process than previously possible without the use of external high shear mixing device 40. Potential advantages of certain embodiments of the disclosed methods are reduced operating costs and increased production from an existing process. Certain embodiments of the disclosed processes additionally offer the advantage of reduced capital costs for the design of new processes. In embodiments, dispersing oxygen-containing gas in solution prior to catalytic oxidation decreases the amount of unreacted toluene or xylene. Potential benefits of some embodiments of this system and method for the production of benzoic acid or methylbenzoic acid isomers include, but are not limited to, faster cycle times, increased throughput, higher conversion, reduced operating costs and/or reduced capital expense due to the possibility of designing smaller reactors and/or operating the process at lower temperature and/or pressure.
 While preferred embodiments of the invention have been shown and described, modifications thereof can be made by one skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and teachings of the invention. The embodiments described herein are exemplary only, and are not intended to be limiting. Many variations and modifications of the invention disclosed herein are possible and are within the scope of the invention. Where numerical ranges or limitations are expressly stated, such express ranges or limitations should be understood to include iterative ranges or limitations of like magnitude falling within the expressly stated ranges or limitations (e.g., from about 1 to about 10 includes, 2, 3, 4, etc.; greater than 0.10 includes 0.11, 0.12, 0.13, and so forth). Use of broader terms such as comprises, includes, having, etc. should be understood to provide support for narrower terms such as consisting of, consisting essentially of, comprised substantially of, and the like. Accordingly, the scope of protection is not limited by the description set out above but is only limited by the claims which follow, that scope including all equivalents of the subject matter of the claims. Each and every original claim is incorporated into the specification as an embodiment of the invention. Thus, the claims are a further description and are an addition to the preferred embodiments of the present invention. The disclosures of all patents, patent applications, and publications cited herein are hereby incorporated by reference, to the extent they provide exemplary, procedural or other details supplementary to those set forth herein.
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