Interview to Cristiano Maesani, Junior Researcher at RadiciGroup
Q: How does RadiciGroup foresees the process benchmarking and product applications of the PERFORM technology?
A: RadiciGroup is one of the most important player in the production of adipic acid, one of the target product of PERFORM project. Nowadays, adipic acid is synthetized only from fossil source raw material, which involves a nitric acid oxidation of the mixture cyclohexanol – cyclohexanone. The low final cost of this chemical intermediate and the very high purity required for its downstream applications (>99,8% by weight) make this synthetic route the only one possible at industrial scale.
Researchers from all over the world have been working for 50 years to study new processes able to remove nitric acid from the production pathway. The new and innovative adipic acid synthesis proposed in the PERFORM project not only removes the nitric acid as reactant, which would allow to have safer chemical plants and less subjected to corrosion problems, but also uses sugars from biomass as starting raw materials and renewable energy, embracing the philosophy of sustainability that characterizes RadiciGroup vision. This new approach aligned with the European Energy Policy and based on renewable feedstock should also allow to achieve a significant improvement of the product environmental footprint.
Unfortunately, adipic acid market quality requirements are very strict, especially in polyamides synthesis, which covers more than 60% of its uses. Even small amounts of mono carboxylic acids, metals ions or UV-vis adsorbent molecules could make the product unsuitable for its downstream applications. For this reason, in order to achieve a result never reached in the chemical industry, it is fundamental to well design the whole process, from the right selection and pre-treatment of the raw material, passing through the high conversion and selectivity inside the electrochemical pair reactor and finally to the correct choice of unit operations in the downstream process for the removal of the critical impurities.
RadiciGroup will guide its partners towards the benchmark adipic acid by chemical analysing the product obtained, highlighting the critical parameters that should be improved to obtain an adipic acid whose quality is as similar as possible to the one coming from fossil source. In parallel to this, polymerization tests will be done on laboratory and pilot plant to produce polyamide 66, the most critical application of adipic acid. The nylon thus obtained will be afterwards tested in plastic molding and yarn spinning pilot plant, establishing if the adipic acid obtained in the PERFORM project would have a real market or not.