Catalytic liquid- and gas-phase oxidations for the synthesis of intermediates and specialty chemicals: some examples of industrial relevance

Guidetti, Stefania (2010) Catalytic liquid- and gas-phase oxidations for the synthesis of intermediates and specialty chemicals: some examples of industrial relevance, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Chimica industriale, 22 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/2673.
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Nowadays, it is clear that the target of creating a sustainable future for the next generations requires to re-think the industrial application of chemistry. It is also evident that more sustainable chemical processes may be economically convenient, in comparison with the conventional ones, because fewer by-products means lower costs for raw materials, for separation and for disposal treatments; but also it implies an increase of productivity and, as a consequence, smaller reactors can be used. In addition, an indirect gain could derive from the better public image of the company, marketing sustainable products or processes. In this context, oxidation reactions play a major role, being the tool for the production of huge quantities of chemical intermediates and specialties. Potentially, the impact of these productions on the environment could have been much worse than it is, if a continuous efforts hadn’t been spent to improve the technologies employed. Substantial technological innovations have driven the development of new catalytic systems, the improvement of reactions and process technologies, contributing to move the chemical industry in the direction of a more sustainable and ecological approach. The roadmap for the application of these concepts includes new synthetic strategies, alternative reactants, catalysts heterogenisation and innovative reactor configurations and process design. Actually, in order to implement all these ideas into real projects, the development of more efficient reactions is one primary target. Yield, selectivity and space-time yield are the right metrics for evaluating the reaction efficiency. In the case of catalytic selective oxidation, the control of selectivity has always been the principal issue, because the formation of total oxidation products (carbon oxides) is thermodynamically more favoured than the formation of the desired, partially oxidized compound. As a matter of fact, only in few oxidation reactions a total, or close to total, conversion is achieved, and usually the selectivity is limited by the formation of by-products or co-products, that often implies unfavourable process economics; moreover, sometimes the cost of the oxidant further penalizes the process. During my PhD work, I have investigated four reactions that are emblematic of the new approaches used in the chemical industry. In the Part A of my thesis, a new process aimed at a more sustainable production of menadione (vitamin K3) is described. The “greener” approach includes the use of hydrogen peroxide in place of chromate (from a stoichiometric oxidation to a catalytic oxidation), also avoiding the production of dangerous waste. Moreover, I have studied the possibility of using an heterogeneous catalytic system, able to efficiently activate hydrogen peroxide. Indeed, the overall process would be carried out in two different steps: the first is the methylation of 1-naphthol with methanol to yield 2-methyl-1-naphthol, the second one is the oxidation of the latter compound to menadione. The catalyst for this latter step, the reaction object of my investigation, consists of Nb2O5-SiO2 prepared with the sol-gel technique. The catalytic tests were first carried out under conditions that simulate the in-situ generation of hydrogen peroxide, that means using a low concentration of the oxidant. Then, experiments were carried out using higher hydrogen peroxide concentration. The study of the reaction mechanism was fundamental to get indications about the best operative conditions, and improve the selectivity to menadione. In the Part B, I explored the direct oxidation of benzene to phenol with hydrogen peroxide. The industrial process for phenol is the oxidation of cumene with oxygen, that also co-produces acetone. This can be considered a case of how economics could drive the sustainability issue; in fact, the new process allowing to obtain directly phenol, besides avoiding the co-production of acetone (a burden for phenol, because the market requirements for the two products are quite different), might be economically convenient with respect to the conventional process, if a high selectivity to phenol were obtained. Titanium silicalite-1 (TS-1) is the catalyst chosen for this reaction. Comparing the reactivity results obtained with some TS-1 samples having different chemical-physical properties, and analyzing in detail the effect of the more important reaction parameters, we could formulate some hypothesis concerning the reaction network and mechanism. Part C of my thesis deals with the hydroxylation of phenol to hydroquinone and catechol. This reaction is already industrially applied but, for economical reason, an improvement of the selectivity to the para di-hydroxilated compound and a decrease of the selectivity to the ortho isomer would be desirable. Also in this case, the catalyst used was the TS-1. The aim of my research was to find out a method to control the selectivity ratio between the two isomers, and finally to make the industrial process more flexible, in order to adapt the process performance in function of fluctuations of the market requirements. The reaction was carried out in both a batch stirred reactor and in a re-circulating fixed-bed reactor. In the first system, the effect of various reaction parameters on catalytic behaviour was investigated: type of solvent or co-solvent, and particle size. With the second reactor type, I investigated the possibility to use a continuous system, and the catalyst shaped in extrudates (instead of powder), in order to avoid the catalyst filtration step. Finally, part D deals with the study of a new process for the valorisation of glycerol, by means of transformation into valuable chemicals. This molecule is nowadays produced in big amount, being a co-product in biodiesel synthesis; therefore, it is considered a raw material from renewable resources (a bio-platform molecule). Initially, we tested the oxidation of glycerol in the liquid-phase, with hydrogen peroxide and TS-1. However, results achieved were not satisfactory. Then we investigated the gas-phase transformation of glycerol into acrylic acid, with the intermediate formation of acrolein; the latter can be obtained by dehydration of glycerol, and then can be oxidized into acrylic acid. Actually, the oxidation step from acrolein to acrylic acid is already optimized at an industrial level; therefore, we decided to investigate in depth the first step of the process. I studied the reactivity of heterogeneous acid catalysts based on sulphated zirconia. Tests were carried out both in aerobic and anaerobic conditions, in order to investigate the effect of oxygen on the catalyst deactivation rate (one main problem usually met in glycerol dehydration). Finally, I studied the reactivity of bifunctional systems, made of Keggin-type polyoxometalates, either alone or supported over sulphated zirconia, in this way combining the acid functionality (necessary for the dehydrative step) with the redox one (necessary for the oxidative step). In conclusion, during my PhD work I investigated reactions that apply the “green chemistry” rules and strategies; in particular, I studied new greener approaches for the synthesis of chemicals (Part A and Part B), the optimisation of reaction parameters to make the oxidation process more flexible (Part C), and the use of a bioplatform molecule for the synthesis of a chemical intermediate (Part D).

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Guidetti, Stefania
Dottorato di ricerca
Scuola di dottorato
Scienze chimiche
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
selective oxidations glycerol dehydratation titanium silicalite sulphated zirconia heterogeneous catalysis
Data di discussione
29 Marzo 2010

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