News | March 20, 1998

Solutia Will Commercialize New Phenol Technology

Following a two-year pilot plant program, Solutia Inc. (St. Louis, Mo.) will build a new plant at its Pensacola, Fla. facility to make phenol, a starting material for adipic and other dibasic acids, and nylon 6,6. The process uses nitrous oxide to hydrolyze benzene, rather than the conventional route that combines benzene with propylene to make the cumene intermediate (see figures). More than 4 billion lbs./yr. of phenol are produced in the United States, according to federal data.

Solutia's new phenol process avoids the production of cumene and byproduct acetone, and recycles nitrous oxide, thus avoiding an aqueous waste stream or, after wastewater treatment, NOx emissions.

Besides having the potential to being a lower-cost route to phenol, the process has several important environmental benefits, said Gerald Reyenga, a team leader of the project. The nitrous oxide can be recycled, avoiding NOx production or aqueous waste streams. The process is 98 percent selective for phenol, and does not produce an acetone byproduct. In recognition of this feature, Solutia is applying for a President's Green Chemistry Award, given by the Clinton Administration.

Solutia will start construction of the facility in 12 months, and hopes to have fullscale production late in 2000. JLM Industries, Inc. (Tampa, Fla.), a manufacturer and marketer of commodity chemicals, will also invest in the plant, and will market excess phenol. "This partnership will give JLM access to phenol produced by this facility in excess of Solutia's internal requirements," says John Macdonald, JLM president. "When combined with our phenol production, this additional capacity will make JLM a major factor in the North American merchant phenol market."

Russian Catalyst
The process originated at the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis, in the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Solutia acquired worldwide rights to it (outside of the former Soviet Union) in the early 1990s, and has been working with the Russian scientists to commercialize it. Once phenol is produced, it can be hydrogenated to cyclohexanone and cyclohexanol; those materials, once reacted with nitric acid, produce adipic, glutaric and succinic acids, and release nitrous oxide, which can be recycled back to the phenol step. Adipic acid is the starting material for nylon; the other acids can be converted to dimethyl esters, which are useful solvents.

For more information: Solutia Inc., 10300 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63166. Tel: 314-674-1000.

By Nick Basta