How innovation is driving glycolic acid synthesis
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How innovation is driving glycolic acid synthesis

How innovation is driving glycolic acid synthesis

Nornickel’s approach to glycolic acid synthesis, which centres on the liquid-phase oxidation of ethylene glycol, hinges on an innovative paladium-based catalyst

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Innovation in glycolic acid synthesis

Imagine a substance that can be used in everything from anti-ageing creams and pharmaceuticals to biodegradable polymers. That’s the power of glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s becoming increasingly sought-after across a wide range of industries.

The global market for glycolic acid is expected to reach $450m by 2027, and this surge in demand is pushing scientists to develop more efficient and sustainable methods for its production.

Currently, glycolic acid is synthesised using methods such as carbonylation of formaldehyde, hydrolysis of cyanohydride and saponification of chloroacetic acid. However, these traditional techniques come with drawbacks. They often result in low yields and waste products, involving hazardous compounds.

Catalysts, such as those made from platinum, have been introduced to improve these methods, but the quest for a better alternative continues.

A palladium catalyst for glycolic acid synthesis

Enter Nornickel, a mining giant, and its research partners, who are aiming to introduce a groundbreaking solution: a palladium-based catalyst prototype to the market.

This innovative catalyst utilises palladium and gold nanoparticles on a carbon carrier and promises to revolutionise the way that glycolic acid is produced.

“In lab tests, this new prototype has outperformed existing commercial catalysts in terms of activity and selectivity, delivering a significantly higher yield of glycolic acid,” said Dmitry Korolyov, technological innovations lead at Nornickel.

This palladium catalyst isn’t just a scientific marvel, it has the potential to transform the glycolic acid production landscape.

Nornickel envisions a future where this technology can be used to create simpler, more mobile industrial production units. These small-scale units could be set up directly at manufacturing facilities that require glycolic acid, eliminating the need for long-term planning and large-scale production plants.

This approach would not only be more efficient, but also lead to lower upfront costs (CAPEX) and operational expenses (OPEX) for businesses.

The palladium catalyst prototype is part of Nornickel’s broader commitment to research and development. The company is investing over $100m to explore how their metals can be applied in developing markets, including those for alloys, spintronics devices, and renewable energy technologies such as hydrogen and solar power.

A cost-effective and sustainable leap forward

Nornickel’s approach to glycolic acid synthesis, which centres on the liquid-phase oxidation of ethylene glycol, hinges on this innovative catalyst. The palladium-based catalyst offers a significant leap forward. It promises to be safer, more efficient, and potentially more cost-effective than traditional methods.

After further optimisation, this prototype will be tested in a semi-industrial setting. This will be a major step towards large-scale, sustainable and efficient production of glycolic acid.

The development of this palladium-based catalyst isn’t just a breakthrough in glycolic acid synthesis. It highlights the potential of palladium to catalyse not just chemical reactions but also market transformations.

As the demand for glycolic acid continues to rise, innovations like this will be crucial for shaping a more sustainable and efficient future in chemical manufacturing.

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