Acrylic plastics commonly used in windows, contact lenses, implants and paints contain the key polymer methyl methacrylate (MMA). Around 3 million tonnes of MMA is produced annually with a factory gate value of around $9 billion. Historically, this was done using toxic starting compounds in an energy intensive process.
Dr Jonathan Iggo’s team is revolutionising the acrylic manufacturing industry with their pioneering energy efficient and eco-friendly approach to produce the key building material used in all acrylic products. The Lucite Alpha process avoids the costly and energy intensive waste co-products and toxic substrates of the conventional (acetone cyanohydrin) process.
Research at Liverpool provided a detailed understanding of chemical reaction intermediates and their relative stability, experimentally verifying the thermodynamic model which extended the catalyst life by several orders of magnitude. This provided key data to underpin x30,000 production increase to industrial scales.
Working in partnerships
Collaborating with the industrial partner, Lucite, Iggo’s team used their expertise in NMR and high-pressure systems to identify catalyst degradation pathways that were limiting the company’s’ technology and preventing commercial-scale operation.
The project was funded by Lucite International and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Outputs and outcomes
The research has generated more than $1.5 billion of new business in the first six years of operation for the partner. A second Alpha process plant came on stream in 2018 and is the world’s largest MMA manufacturing plant.
The team continues to work on a range of industrially relevant catalysis processes, providing expertise in NMR studies, catalyst design and product characterisation.
Research at the University of Liverpool was critical in enabling the commercialisation of the green Lucite Alpha process, generating $1.5Bn of new business in the first six years of operation.Dr Jonathan Iggo
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