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Bioethanol as a feedstock for ‘green’ polymers

By Gerald Ondrey |

Efforts to make a completely sustainable route to polymers based on vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) are progressing at Wacker Chemie AG (Munich, Germany; www.wacker.com). VAM — a precursor for polyvinyl acetate and ethylene-vinyl-acetate copolymers used for making dispersible polymer powders — is normally made by the reaction of acetic acid and steam-cracker-derived ethylene. Wacker is developing alternative routes to both acetic acid and ethylene starting with ethanol, the idea being that bioethanol derived from cellulose will soon become economically viable as a renewable feedstock. Furthest along is Wacker’s ACEO process (flowsheet), in which acetic acid is made by the direct oxidation of ethanol. The reaction takes place in a fixed-bed reactor at a temperature of over 200°C over a proprietary oxidation catalyst that the company developed in house. Heat from the exothermic reaction is recovered to make high-pressure steam, which is both exported and used for purifying the acetic acid by distillation. The process has been demonstrated in a 500 m.t./yr pilot plant, which has operated for over six months at Wacker’s Burghausen, Germany, site. Acetic acid yields of over 90%, with 96 mol.% selectivity, have been…
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