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New discovery could 'green up' hundreds of everyday products

The American Chemical Society (ACS) today released a new episode in its award-winning "Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions" podcast series showcasing a discovery that could mean greener and more environmentally friendly production of a key ingredient used to make everything from paint to diapers.

The podcast and accompanying website focus on a new way to make acrylic acid, a key industrial material that's usually produced from pricey and increasingly scarce petroleum. It involves development of a new catalyst that permits production of acrylic acid without using petroleum. The research appeared in the American Chemical Society's journal, ACS Catalysis.

Weijie Ji, Ph.D., Nanjing University in China, says that global demand for the colorless liquid totals about four million tons annually. Acrylic acid is typically made from propylene obtained from petroleum. With prices rising, manufacturers have been seeking alternative ways of making acrylic acid without buying propylene. One possibility involves making it from lactic acid. But current processes for using lactic acid are inefficient and consume large amounts of energy.

The scientists' potential solution is a new catalyst that can convert lactic acid into acrylic acid more efficiently," says Weijie. "We showed that the new catalyst can convert lactic acid to acrylic acid more selectively at lower temperatures. We are very excited about this finding and its potential benefits. The catalyst is not very complicated to prepare."

The new podcast is available without charge at iTunes and from ACS' website at

Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions is a series of podcasts describing some of the 21st Century's most daunting problems, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. Global Challenges is the centerpiece in an alliance on sustainability between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Global Challenges is a sweeping panorama of global challenges that includes dilemmas such as providing a hungry, thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water; developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel society; preserving the environment and assuring a sustainable future in the decades ahead; and improving human health. During the 2011 global celebration of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions also is focusing on the main themes of IYC — health, environment, energy, and materials.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Michael Bernstein | EurekAlert!
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