FOCUS ON C A T A L Y S T S A MONTHLY REPORT FROM ALAN E COMYNS JULY 2002 In this issue
WHITHER IONIC LIQUIDS?
MARKETS AND BUSINESS 1–3 Less Pd, more Pt, used in autocats COMPANY NEWS 3–5 ExxonMobil resolves GTL patent dispute Shell invests in bioethanol NEW PLANTS 5 Japanese heteropoly acid plant expansion NEW TECHNOLOGY 5–6 Functionalised fibres absorb PGMs ENVIRONMENT 6 Enzyme degrades pesticides Enzyme scavenges CO2 PATENTS
AN INTERNATIONAL NEWSLETTER MONITORING TECHNICAL AND COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MANUFACTURE AND USE OF CATALYSTS ISSN 1351–4180
Ionic liquids are the prime ballerine of Green Chemistry – much nicer alternative solvents than liquid ammonia or sulfur dioxide – but are they destined to remain niches or to enter the mainstream of chemical technology? I am reminded of the status of solvent extraction technology fifty years ago. It had been remarkably successful in the atomic energy industry and people were asking what place it might have in extractive metallurgy generally. The late Dr JM Fletcher of Harwell (better known for his subsequent dating of the supposed Arthurian round table in Winchester) tackled this question from a broad economic viewpoint*. He divided metals into three categories, depending on whether their world production was <20 tons, 20–20,000 tons, or >20,000 tons. He concluded that metals in first category were clear candidates for solvent extraction; those in the second category might be candidates if sufficiently cheap solvents were available; but those in the third could never be economically processed by solvent extraction.
It is not too early to apply similar reasoning to predict the future place of ionic liquids in the organic chemicals industry. A number of ionic liquids are already available on the laboratory chemicals market – one producer lists sixteen of them. Present prices cannot yet indicate future prices from large scale production. The costs of using ionic liquids will depend mainly on their prices and on process losses. Losses will be mainly ‘mechanical’ and hard to predict. If this technology is to find application in the manufacture of the middle category of organic compounds (to draw an analogy from the metals) it will be necessary to find much cheaper methods for making the liquids. I believe that researchers should be putting as much effort into devising these cheaper methods as in finding uses for the liquids. Let the industrial inorganic chemists join the ballet. Alan E. Comyns * JM Fletcher, in Extraction and Refining of the Rarer Metals, IMM, London, 1957, pp. 15–-33
MARKETS AND BUSINESS Kick start for metallocene polyolefins During this decade, the global market for metallocene polyethylene (mPE) is expected to rise by 12-18%/y to 17 M tonne/y. Potential future growth for m-polymers in Asia is large, with mPE currently having a 5% market share and metallocene polypropylene (mPP) a 1% market share. The main global
producers are Dow Chemical Co and ExxonMobil. In Asia, producers include Mitsui Chemicals, Mitsubishi Chemical, Sumitomo Chemical, Japan Evolue, Japan Polyolefins and Japan Polychem. In Apr 2002, the Malaysian company Titan Petrochemicals signed an agreement to use Univation Technologies’ Exxpol technology, with output available from Jul 2002. Output
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