Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Are we going to run out of organic solvents?

I'm still chewing on this Bruce Lipshutz opinion piece in Chemical and Engineering News that predicts an eventual move away from petroleum-based solvents: 

...Society has started to force petroleum companies to account for their environmental impact. For example, in 2021, a court in the Netherlands required Royal Dutch Shell to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions created from burning fossil fuels. In 2020, the CEO of BP announced the firm’s plans to begin cutting its oil production by 40% and focus on renewable energy. Is this the beginning of the end for big oil? How many companies must transition away from oil before the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries see shortages in the supply chains that are essential to their industries? And what does the future workforce of scientists—specifically synthetic organic chemists—look like absent the petroleum-based science that may soon become obsolete?

I guess I have a pretty tough time imagining what this future could look like, i.e. a world in which no solvent is derived from drilling for oil? Seems to me a likelier world is one where solvent gets *a lot* more expensive, as oil gets pricier due to climate change-related pricing structures, etc, or solvent is derived from plants/some other Source of the Future.

Nevertheless, a reasonable thing to think about how such a world might look... 


  1. Better start finding zero-helium NMRs or hopefully microscopy gets so good we can just "look" at our molecules to confirm them.

  2. a good portion of hexane is actually manufactured not from oil but from natural gas "condensates" specifically ethane (via dehydrogenation to ethylene, and Ni-catalyzed trimerization). Ethylene-derived hexane has a significant (30%) content of iso-hexane, so if you are using hexane to make -100C cooling bath with hexane-liquid nitrogen mix, it matters a great deal what isomeric purity hexane you use sine the melting point differs a great deal.
    Most ethylacetate is fermentation-derived, there are Ru-catalyst that dehydrogenatively dimerize anhydrous ethanol directly to EtOAc and H2


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