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New catalyst could improve production of glass alternatives

David Tyler's discovery could reduce waste made in the methyl methacrylate process

University of Oregon chemists have identified a catalyst that could dramatically reduce the amount of waste made in the production of methyl methacrylate, a monomer used in the large-scale manufacturing of lightweight, shatter-resistant alternatives to glass such as Plexiglas.

David Tyler, Charles J. and M. Monteith Jacobs Professor of Chemistry, presented his findings Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.

Global production of methyl methacrylate was 4 million metric tons in 2010. Each kilogram produced also yields 2.5 kilograms of ammonium hydrogen sulfate, a corrosive byproduct that is not usable. Disposal of ammonium hydrogen sulfate is extremely energy intensive, consuming 2 percent of the energy used in Texas annually.

Tyler's team has identified a catalyst that doesn't produce ammonium hydrogen sulfate.

"There were some really fundamental chemical reasons why previous catalysts didn't work with this process," Tyler said. "We've found a catalyst that overcomes all of those objections."

With the identification of a working catalyst, Tyler will focus his research on how to accelerate the conversion to methyl methacrylate. The industrial standard for a practical catalyst is conversion of acetone cyanohydrin into methyl methacrylate in the span of a minute or two, Tyler said.

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

SOURCE: David Tyler, UO chemistry professor, 541-346-4649,

Matt Cooper | EurekAlert!
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