Sodium hypochlorite is the active constituent in chlorine bleach (also known as liquid bleach, “Javelle water” or simply bleach), a strong oxidizer and bleaching agent. Known since 1789, bleach has been widely used since the 1930s and is an excellent disinfecting agent that is employed in water treatment, cleaning and laundry operations, clinics and hospitals, and residences for disinfecting kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
Although household bleach demand has been historically larger in terms of volume, since it is more diluted, industrial bleach demand is superior (on a dry basis). As household market grows basically at the same pace as the population, increased water consumption and shortage of fresh water resources makes water treatment the largest bleach application and the fastest-growing segment. Additionally, transport and handling safety concerns have direct public opinion towards the use of sodium hypochlorite rather than chlorine gas in water treatment, which represents a significant market expansion potential.
Sodium hypochlorite chemical production is a well-established process in the industry, whose operation principle is already employed for preventing chlorine emissions in chlor-alkali plants. In this report, we review industrial bleach production through the chlorination of caustic soda by chlorine gas in packed columns. Included in the analysis is an overview of the technology and economics of a widely used process, similar to the employed by Solvay Chemicals, for example. Both the capital investment and the operating costs for plants erected on the US Gulf Coast and in Brazil are presented.
The economic analysis presented in this report is based on a plant integrated upstream with a chlor-alkali plant and capable of producing 250 kta of bleach. The estimated CAPEX for such a plant on the U.S. Gulf Coast is USD 33 million. Such location presented not only a lower CAPEX when compared to Brazil, but also exhibited lower operational expenses, revealing itself as the most competitive area.
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