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Environmentally Friendly Procedure for Manufacturing Nylon Developed at NTHU
About 3.5 billion kilograms of adipic acid is produced worldwide each year, mainly for use in the manufacture of nylon. However, the production of adipic results in the emission of large amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O), a substance which depletes the Earth’s ozone layer and is also a potent greenhouse gas. In light of this situation, imitating the process by which ozone and ultraviolet light dissolve organic materials, Professor Hwang Kuo Chu of NTHU’s Department of Chemistry has discovered a way to use ozone and ultraviolet radiation at room temperature to oxidate cyclohexane into adipic acid, a process which doesn’t involve the emission of N2O. His report on this process has been published in the journal Science.
 
According to President Hocheng, researchers at NTHU publish around 1,800 papers each year. Yet Hwang’s report stands out for the contributions it makes to academic research, industry, and environmental protection. Moreover, this research was entirely conducted at NTHU by Hwang and post-doctoral researcher Sagadevan Arunachalam, making it abundantly clear that NTHU is a world-class research institute.
 
According to Professor Hwang, the demand for adipic acid is increasing by about 5% per year. At present, nearly 95% of adipic acid is produced by oxidizing nitric acid, a process which requires high temperatures (125–165 ℃), high pressure (8-15 atm), a highly concentrated nitric acid solution, and large amounts of energy.
 
Currently the production of adipic acid accounts for about 5-8% of global N2O emissions. The widespread adoption of this new manufacturing technique would not only decrease the cost of producing adipic acid, but also reduces energy consumption (thereby reducing carbon emissions) and the emissions of nitrous oxide.
 
Professor Huang also mentioned that while C-H bond functionalization is a very important topic in the field of chemistry and extremely difficult to study. Professor Robert G. Bergman of the University of California, Berkeley sees C-H bond activation as the Holy Grail of chemistry. The main significance of this newly developed manufacturing process is that it doesn’t use any catalyst, and can be carried out in extremely mild condition, i.e., room temperature and one atmosphere of pressure.
 
The title of the research report is “One-pot Room-temperature Conversion of Cyclohexane to Adipic Acid by Ozone and UV light,” and appears in the December issue of Science 2014. This discovery was also reported in other scientific publications, such as Chemistry World, Scientific American, C&EN as well as ScienceNews.
 
 Professor Hwang Kuochu.

Professor Hwang Kuochu.

 Press conference announcing the publication of Hwang’s research in Science.

Press conference announcing the publication of Hwang’s research in Science.

 Comparison of the currently used process for manufacturing adipic acid (A) and the newly developed technique (B).

Comparison of the currently used process for manufacturing adipic acid (A) and the newly developed technique (B).

 Professor Hwang Kuochu (right) and post-doctoral researcher Sagadevan Arunachalam.

Professor Hwang Kuochu (right) and post-doctoral researcher Sagadevan Arunachalam.

 

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