The Sohio Acrylonitrile Process

Sohio's Cornell Road research laboratory, about 1942.Early History
Acrylonitrile, first synthesized in 1893 by Charles Moureu, did not become important until the 1930s, when industry began using it in new applications such as acrylic fibers for textiles and synthetic rubber.

Although by the late 1940s the utility of acrylonitrile was unquestioned, existing manufacturing methods were expensive, multistep processes. They seemed reserved for the world's largest and wealthiest principal manufacturers: American Cyanamid, Union Carbide, DuPont, and Monsanto. At such high production costs, acrylonitrile could well have remained little more than an interesting, low-volume specialty chemical with limited applications.

In the late 1950s, however, Sohio's research into selective catalytic oxidation led to a breakthrough in acrylonitrile manufacture. The people who invented, developed, and commercialized the process showed as much skill in marketing as in chemistry. The result was such a dramatic lowering of process costs that all other methods of producing acrylonitrile, predominantly through acetylene, soon became obsolete.

 

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