LSU researchers discover new catalyst to lower cost of manufacturing


Researchers from the LSU Departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences have discovered a new catalyst system—aiding in transforming one chemical substance into another—which they say is more cost-effective than systems currently popular in manufacturing.

Specifically the team of researchers, which includes scientists from ExxonMobil Chemical Company, discovered a new cationic cobalt bisphosphine hydroformylation catalyst system, according to LSU. Currently, some 75% of industries use rhodium-based catalysts because of low-pressure technologies and cheaper-to-build facilities, but LSU chemistry Professor Emeritus George Stanley says the new cobalt-based alternative can make more and better versions of certain products at a fraction of the cost. While rhodium can fetch up to $9,800 an ounce, cobalt costs only around 90 cents per ounce.

“This new cationic cobalt bisphosphine technology offers a far more energy-efficient catalyst that can operate at medium pressures for these reactions,” Stanley says.

LSU credits the team in making the first major discovery in this corner of science, hydroformylation, in 50 years. Hydroformylation is the catalytic reaction that converts alkenes, carbon monoxide and hydrogen into more complex organic products, like plasticizers–a substance added in industrial production to increase a substance’s flexibility and reduce brittleness–and cleaning detergents.

Louisiana, alone, has three large hydroformylation chemical plants: the ExxonMobil facility in Baton Rouge, which uses the high-pressure cobalt catalyst technology, the Shell plant in Geismar, which uses the medium-pressure phosphine-modified cobalt catalyst system, and the Dow chemical plant in Taft, which uses low-pressure phosphine-modified rhodium catalysts.

Read the research article in Science magazine.