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Synthesizing adipic acid without generating N2O

By Paul Grad |

Adipic acid, a precursor for the synthesis of nylon, is usually produced through nitric acid oxidation of cyclohexane, a process which has disadvantages, such as the emission of nitrous oxide — a greenhouse and ozone-depleting gas — as well as low product yield, high energy consumption, and corrosion of reaction vessels by nitric acid. The amount of N2O thus released into the atmosphere accounts for up to 8% of annual anthropogenic N2O emission worldwide. An alternative adipic-acid route that eliminates the use of HNO3 and thus the associated corrosion problems and N2O emissions, has been discovered by professor Kuo Chu Hwang and researcher Arunachalam Sagadevan at National Tsing Hua University (Hsinchu, Taiwan; www.nthu.edu.tw). The researchers were inspired by reports that ozone and ultraviolet (UV) irradiation were primarily responsible for oxidative degradation of most hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, and decided to see whether both treatments in combination could oxidize cyclohexane, which exclusively contains unactivated sp3 C-H bonds. By bubbling O3 gas through cyclohexane with concurrent UV irradiation at room temperature, a solid reaction product precipitated at the bottom of the reaction vessel after 2–8 h. The solid…
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