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Making epoxide production cheaper and more environmentally friendly

Dr Misbahu Ladan Mohammed's PhD research has helped to improve epoxide production, making it more efficient and environmentally friendly

An epoxide is an organic compound consisting of a three-atom ring. They are the raw materials for a broad range of products, from pharmaceuticals and plastics to paint and adhesives. However, production of epoxides can be expensive, especially on a large scale, as well as damaging to the environment.

Dr Misbahu Mohammed has undertaken research in epoxide production aimed at combating these issues, with the ultimate goal of making epoxide production cheaper, more environmentally friendly, safer and more flexible.

Improving the process

The conventional epoxidation methods in the fine chemicals industries employ either stoichiometric peracids as a catalyst – which produces acid waste, or chlorohydrin – this results in chlorinated by-products and calcium chloride waste,” explains Dr Mohammed. “My research proposed an alkene epoxidation process that is considered to be clean, and does not damage the environment. In fact, the alcohol by-product that is produced using my method is itself useful and can be used for other scientific processes.”

Adding oxygen to the alkene molecule

Dr Mohammed’s work involved adding oxygen to an alkene molecule, which created a cyclic epoxide – an important chemical intermediate. It’s a useful reaction in organic synthesis, as the epoxide is a highly reactive compound that is used as a raw material or intermediate in the production of commercially important products such as flavours, fragrances, paints and pharmaceuticals.

“Our aim was to move the chemistry behind these techniques from small-scale laboratory production to medium scale production technology,”says Dr Mohammed. “We felt the best way of doing that was in continuous process using a reactive distillation column, and expanded the work to involve the assessment of the suitability of the heterogeneous catalysts developed for alkene epoxidation using a FlowSyn continuous flow reactor.”

Our approach is a more efficient process than conventional batch reaction methods. It is catalytic, it offers flexibility...and it is safer and more environmentally acceptable.”

Misbahu Mohammed

Using a FlowSyn reactor

Dr Mohammed’s experiments were carried out using a reactive distillation column and a FlowSyn reactor. They showed considerable time savings, high reproducibility and selectivity, and a remarkable improvement in the stability of the catalyst when compared to the reactions carried out in a batch reactor.

Possibilities for future research

Dr Mohammed is hopeful that future research in this area could build further upon his results: “It offers the prospect of a lower unit cost and increased profitability.”

Dr Mohammed is hopeful that his technologically advanced process can be used by epoxides manufacturers who will be saving money as well as gaining a superior product. The process could also be further modified to improve stability and catalytic performance so it can be used in the synthesis of other valuable epoxides.