A review of extractive desulfurization of fuel oils using ionic liquids
Hydrodesulfurization (HDS), a widely employed method in industries for the desulfurization of fuel oils, such as gasoline and diesel fuel is faced with the challenge of producing lower-sulfur or sulfur-free fuel oils, which are required by more and more countries. However, HDS is not very effective for the removal of thiophenic sulfur compounds due to sterically-hindered adsorption on the catalyst surface, unless operated under harsh conditions, such as high temperature, high pressure, and requirement of a noble catalyst and hydrogen. Extractive desulfurization (EDS) of fuel oils using ionic liquids (ILs) has been intensively studied in recent decades and has a good future as an alternative or complementary method to HDS. In this review, we reviewed the research results of EDS using ILs and provided comprehensive discussions on diverse factors, which influence desulfurization, such as the IL species, IL–oil mass ratio, initial sulfur content, temperature, time, mutual solubility, multiple extractions and regeneration. Potential problems or shortcomings were also stated. Some other desulfurization methods currently under study, such as extraction, oxidation, adsorption and biodesulfurization were also briefly outlined. It can be inferred that ILs remain a class of ideal solvents to realize clean fuel oil in the near future because of their desirable physiochemical properties, which are lacking in molecular organic solvents, while there are possible challenges, such as relatively high viscosity and low efficiency.