UO chemists’ catalyst could improve production of glass alternatives

EUGENE, Ore. -- (Aug. 20, 2012) -- University of Oregon chemists have identified a catalyst that could dramatically reduce the amount of waste made in the production of methyl methacrylate, a monomer used in the large-scale manufacturing of lightweight, shatter-resistant alternatives to glass such as Plexiglas.

David Tyler, Charles J. and M. Monteith Jacobs Professor of Chemistry, will present his findings Tuesday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, Aug. 19-23 in Philadelphia, Penn.

Global production of methyl methacrylate was 4 million metric tons in 2010. Each kilogram produced also yields 2.5 kilograms of ammonium hydrogen sulfate, a corrosive byproduct that is not usable. Disposal of ammonium hydrogen sulfate is extremely energy intensive, consuming 2 percent of the energy used in Texas annually.

Tyler’s team has identified a catalyst that doesn’t produce ammonium hydrogen sulfate. The university is securing a provisional patent for the catalyst.

“There were some really fundamental chemical reasons why previous catalysts didn’t work with this process,” Tyler said. “We’ve found a catalyst that overcomes all of those objections.”

“This discovery has great potential to improve a manufacturing process that generates significant waste and requires vast amounts of energy,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation. “It represents a green approach to solving problems and an example of how Tyler and other researchers at the University of Oregon are reengineering science and manufacturing, rethinking the ways we manage and steward resources and fostering a sustainable future for our planet and its people.”

With the identification of a working catalyst, Tyler will focus his research on how to accelerate the conversion to methyl methacrylate. The industrial standard for a practical catalyst is conversion of acetone cyanohydrin into methyl methacrylate in the span of a minute or two, Tyler said.

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

MEDIA CONTACT: Matt Cooper, UO media relations, 541-346-8875, mattc@uoregon.edu

SOURCE: David Tyler, UO chemistry professor, 541-346-4649, dtyler@uoregon.edu

Note: The University of Oregon is equipped with an on-campus television studio with satellite uplink capacity, and a radio studio with an ISDN phone line for broadcast-quality radio interviews.

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UO chemists’ catalyst could improve production of glass alternatives
David Tyler