A GOLD catalyst for the production of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), developed by a team of researchers from Cardiff University and Johnson Matthey, has been successfully commercialised by the chemicals firm.
The catalyst won the Innovative Product of the Year Award in the 2015 IChemE Awards ceremony. Johnson Matthey has opened a purpose-built factory in Shanghai, China, to produce industrial quantities of the gold-based catalyst. The company has conducted successful pilot plant trials in China, and the new facility will be able to produce “hundreds of tons” of the catalyst.
VCM, which is used to produce PVC, is traditionally manufactured by the hydrochlorination of acetylene using a mercuric chloride catalyst, which causes mercury pollution. Mercury is highly dangerous to both humans and the environment. The new catalyst is based on gold, so does not cause mercury pollution, has far superior performance to the conventional mercuric chloride catalyst, and lasts much longer. The new catalyst is a direct, drop-in replacement and does not require any changes to the process or conditions.
The commercialisation marks the first time in more than 50 years that a catalyst for a major commodity chemical has changed so dramatically in formulation. The researchers believe it will make VCM cheaper, cleaner, safer and more sustainable.
The team at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), led by Cardiff professor Graham Hutchings, has worked on developing the catalyst for over eight years. In the past year the CCI has signed a partnership with Germany’s Max Planck Society and in 2018 will move to a new state-of-the-art home on Cardiff University’s new Innovation Campus.
“The CCI's move to a new state-of-the-art catalysis centre in 2018 will present us with a golden opportunity to strengthen this relationship. Sharing our knowledge with the Max Planck Society will help us develop materials that have applications across a range of industries, from the plastics and packaging, automotive and aerospace sectors to construction and electronics. It's a great opportunity for Cardiff and for Wales,” said Hutchings.
The CCI is currently hosting its annual conference with representatives from the Max Planck Society, Johnson Matthey, Exxon Mobil, Haldor Topsøe, Sabic, Invista, Shell, Solvay and Syngenta.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.