CSIR-IIP develops nano catalysts for production of phenol, propylene oxide and ethylene

The Indian Institute of Petroleum, the petrochemicals research arm of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-IIP) has developed new energy-efficient synthesis strategies for preparation of various nano structured materials (nano-catalysts), useful for several challenging catalysis reactions. 

CSIR-IIP has developed a nano catalyst that is useful in the selective oxidation of benzene to phenol. The nano catalyst, developed using an environmentally benign and economically efficient green process, directly converts benzene to phenol in the presence of air in a continuous process with very high selectivity.

The industrial demand for phenol is increasing every year, and its production currently exceeds 8.0 megatonnes per year.

The existing three-step process for production of phenol, called the `Cumene Process', is energy-consuming, environmentally unfavourable, and disadvantageous for practical operation. This process also produces unnecessary by- products, such as acetone and a-methy styrene, according to a CSIR-IIP release.

The new catalysis will help avoid such lesser efficient reactions, Dehradun-based CSIR-IIP said in a release.

Another nano catalyst developed by CSIR-IIP can be used for selective oxidation of propylene to propylene oxide (PO).

It helps in adopting a new process of selective oxidation of propylene to propylene oxide, in an economically viable and more environment-friendly means, with minimal waste.

Propylene oxide is an important synthetic intermediate used in the preparation of commodity chemicals, such as poly urethane foams, propylene glycol, polypropylene glycol, propylene carbonate, etc, and currently its production exceeds 10 million tonnes per annum.

Ninety per cent of the world production of PO is produced either through a chlorohydrins process or by an organic hydro peroxide process (Halcon method), which apart from having acute environmental problems also results in production of unwanted by-products.

Another nano catalyst developed at CSIR-IIP helps in low temperature methane activation.

Methane is the most abundant and the least reactive of the hydrocarbon family, thus the activation of methane at low temperatures is one of the most challenging problems with great practical importance. 

The CSIR-IIP developed nano catalyst can activate methane at low temperature at atmospheric pressure without any deactivation. This also helps in reducing carbon dioxide, another notorious greenhouse gas to produce synthesis gas (mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen).

CSIR-IIP also developed nano catalyst to convert ethane to ethylene in a continuous process at atmospheric pressure.

Ethylene is one of the main building block in petrochemical industry and used as a feedstock for numerous processes like  manufacture of mustard gas (C4H8Cl2S), ethylene oxide, ethylene alcohol, polyethylene and other plastics; and as an inhalation anaesthetic. Global ethylene production capacity is 155.9 million tonnes.

The controlled synthesis of nano particle by simple preparation method still remains a challenge for the researchers as most of the preparation methods are energy intensive, require substantial heat treatment and produce large particles.