Contacts: Martin Chan & Dr. John Dennis, Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, Dr. Ewa Marek & Dr. Stuart Scott, Engineering
Mentor: Dr. Mark Priest, Harrogate Partners
The research team have developed a new technique for manufacturing ethylene oxide from ethylene. Ethylene oxide is widely used in many industrial processes, with over 26 million tonnes a year being produced in 2013. Products which require ethylene oxide as a feedstock include polymers, antifreeze, surfactants and solvents.
Existing techniques use a mixture of purified oxygen and ethylene which can be explosive, so the processes are designed to avoid the formation of explosive mixtures – the disadvantage of this is that it makes the overall process inefficient. Once produced the ethylene oxide is also difficult and expensive to transport.
The new technique introduces a new solid-state catalyst, removing the need to use purified oxygen and the risk of an explosive mixture forming. As a result the process is more efficient, with a higher proportion of the ethylene being converted to ethylene oxide, and much safer than current methods. It is also possible that it could be used on a smaller scale at the point-of-use, removing the need for transport of the chemical.
However it can be difficult to introduce new chemical manufacturing techniques due to the development cost invested in the factories that are already established and operating. It is expected therefore that the initial customers will be smaller scale, who may have need for local production of ethylene oxide for applications such as cold sterilisation.
The same technique will also work in the manufacturing process of a number of other organic chemicals.
The task for the i-Team is to discuss the new approach with users and manufacturers of the relevant organic chemicals, to see where this new process would best fit in the value chain. The team will also seek to understand from industry the experiments and further developments (for example scaling up the process) that may be needed before the potential customers and partners would be interested in working with the inventors on this technology.
NOTE THAT THIS TEAM WILL MEET THEIR INVENTORS AT 7PM ON WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 4TH AT THE IFM, AS WELL AS ATTENDING THE FIRST GROUP SESSION ON MONDAY OCTOBER 2ND