This Week on CENtral Science: XPRIZE Science, Nanotech Safety, and more
Sep20

This Week on CENtral Science: XPRIZE Science, Nanotech Safety, and more

Tweet of the Week: OH: OMG, she LOVES biology. When she gets drunk, that's all she talks about.— LeighKrietschBoerner (@LeighJKBoerner) September 20, 2013 To the network: Cleantech Chemistry: Cool Planet Wraps Up $60 Million Funding Round Fine Line: ChemOutsourcing: Day Two and ChemOutsourcing: Day One Newscripts: XPRIZE Competition Poses Ocean Acidity Challenge and Amusing News Aliquots and From Unknown Bacteria To Biotechnology Breakthrough The Safety Zone: Nanotechnology: Small science can come with big safety risks The Watch Glass: Tiny Solder and Gas Masks for Three Year Olds and Women in Cleveland's Chemistry Labs during WWII and The Orion Nebula and Detector Dogs for Forensic...

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Observations About The CMAI And DeWitt Conferences
Mar25

Observations About The CMAI And DeWitt Conferences

I’m in Houston for the DeWitt and CMAI petrochemical conferences. According to modern journalist practice, I should have had a live Twitter feed from the conferences. I don’t do that. I’m not particularly ashamed. Feel free to cut and paste these observations into your own Tweets. 1) DeWitt was held at the Hotel ZaZa in the Museum district, an artsy hotel with giant booking photos of Frank Sinatra on the walls and stuff. There were about 40 attendees, not including speakers and journalists. 2) CMAI had about 950 or so, by my reckoning, if you don’t include the petrochemical workshop they put on the day before the actual conference. Overall figures were more than 1,000, and I think, a record. They held it at the Hilton Americas, a perfectly normal hotel near the convention center. 3) When I started going to these a decade ago, both were held in the Galleria area. In fact, you could shuttle through the mall between talks. Attendance was closer to even at the time. 4) The biggest theme at the conferences was the cheap natural gas in North America and the strong international advantage North American producers have by cracking ethane into ethylene. Some 25% or 30% of U.S. output of some petrochemicals is being exported, CMAI president Gary Adams said. It is being shipped, “not to Columbus, Ohio, or Houston, Texas, but to conversion facilities around the world.” 5) A big topic of conversation on the sidelines was who might invest in a new cracker in the U.S. and where. (Perhaps I was just bringing it up to people I talked to. I have such tendencies, being a reporter and all.) The juiciest thing I heard is that it would be a “foreign” firm. Whether that narrows it down depends on what is meant by foreign. Reliance Industries is foreign, but technically, so is LyondellBasell. Though I think the more foreign sense of foreign was meant. 6) Investments in chemicals other than ethylene is likely for the U.S. Dewey Johnson, who covers syngas chemicals for CMAI, said in his talk that new acetic acid capacity is needed in the U.S. Tison Keel, who leads ethylene oxide and derivative studies at CMAI, said ethylene oxide purification capacity for derivatives (as opposed to ethylene glycol, which is a different animal) might be needed. That’s nothing to sneeze at; EO purification costs tens of millions, if not upwards of a hundred million, dollars to install. 7) The World Makes, China Takes: The other big theme at the conference was that the booming Chinese economy will buy up all the excess tons of chemicals the world...

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Celanese Says It Is The Amazon Of Ethanol
Dec17

Celanese Says It Is The Amazon Of Ethanol

Yesterday, Celanese hosted a conference call with analysts about its new ethanol technology. On the call were CEO Dave Weidman, CFO Steven Sterin, and senior operations VP Jim Alder. About a month ago, the company unveiled plans to build one, and possibly two, 400,000-ton-per-year ethanol plants in China based on coal and using its new conversion technology. It is also planning a smaller, 40,000-ton plant in Clear Lake, Texas, based on natural gas. The conference call didn’t shed a whole lot of light on what the technology is all about. It is pretty obvious that the process is based on gasification. Officials said that the plant can use any hydrocarbon feedstock, including biomass. Another clue is that Alder said that the technology “integrates elements of Celanese acetyls technology.” What could this mean? Well, acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, has two carbons like ethanol. In other words, it is ethanol plus a carbonyl group. Celanese and other companies make it via the carbonylation of methanol using carbon monoxide. Alder also mentioned that by the time the Clear Lake plant comes onstream in 2012, the company will have some 3,000 patents worldwide covering the technology, many of which are patents covering its existing acetyl chemistry. Company officials also stressed that the technology is highly selective for ethanol, a point of contrast, they said, between Celanese’s technology and existing processes to get to alcohols via gasification, such as Sasol’s. The economics, Weidman said, were “very favorable compared to fermentation.” Another advantage is that the technology is very scalable, officials stressed. Celanese can expand a 400,000 plant to 1 million tons at a fraction of the initial cost of building the plant. This seems to explain why Celanese said might build one--or two--plants in China. The options the company is looking at are either building a second plant, presumably at a different location, or expanding its first unit. Either way, Celanese wants to quickly ramp up the technology to about a million tons. To say that Celanese is excited about the technology is an understatement. I have never once heard a chemical company gloat about a technology more than Celanese has about this ethanol process. “This technology breakthrough is a new platform for earnings growth with the potential to reshape Celanese,” Weidman said. Weidman said that if Celanese had an operational million ton plant today, it would generate nearly a billion dollars in revenue and ethanol would be the Celanese business with the greatest profit margins. A cash cow is born, lay down some straw and gather the children. Officials did get a little carried away. One of the principals, I...

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SABIC Eyes Polyurethanes, More Polycarbonate
Oct27

SABIC Eyes Polyurethanes, More Polycarbonate

Saudi Basic Industries held the first official press conference at the K 2010 plastics show in Düsseldorf earlier today, and there, CEO Mohamed Al Mady disclosed his company‘s designs on getting into the polyurethanes industry. Al Mady said that SABIC was in the process of „finalizing discussions with technolgy providers and systems houses“, presumably on a large integrated complex. When asked I asked him whether that would mean getting into the production of polyols, isocyanates, or both, he wouldn´t give a precise answer. „We are working to see how it fits with existing projects in the kingdom,“ he said, emphasizing access to aromatics, and therefore hinting at SABIC production of isocyanates. He also stressed that a possible project is only in the early stages of planning. At the show, Al Mady also said that the company is still considering the construction of a polycarbonate plant in China. The company is in the final stages of negotiation with Sinopec and the plant would be an add on to its newly completed joint venture with Sinopec in Tianjin. The company is completing a polycarbonate joint venture in Saudi Arabia using licensed technology. It will use its own, former GE, technology for the Chinese plant. I dimly recall that General Electric was planning a polycarbonate plant in China with PetroChina and that SABIC nixed that plan when it purchased GE in 2007. (Funny quotation marks due to German...

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China, Heparin, And Heterogeneity
Jul22

China, Heparin, And Heterogeneity

Back in 2007 and 2008, tainted heparin from China was responsible for the deaths of over 80 people in the U.S. If you had some sort of warm and fuzzy reassurance that authorities were looking into the matter, a new congressional probe should quash that feeling pretty quickly. Today the Wall Street Journal reported that the probe, by two congressmen from Texas, has found that China never looked into the heparin scandal at all. This is despite repeated warnings from FDA, as C&EN wrote last year. The probe comes ahead of FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg's first trip to China in her new official capacity. The congressmen, Reps. Joe Barton and Michael Burgess, urged the commissioner to bring the issue up during her trip. According to the WSJ, a spokeswoman for China's State Food and Drug Administration said the results of the probe were "not true." It's a shame this scandal had to happen at all- all because heparin, a drug so many people rely on, is easier to harvest from a pig intestine than it is to make in the lab. As a refresher, heparin is a blood thinner, and chemically speaking, it's a variably sulfated glycosaminoglycan polysaccharide composed of alternating D-glucosamine and uronic acid residues. Now, the blood thinner term is sort of a misnomer- heparin doesn't actually thin the blood. What it really does is inhibit coagulation- prevent blood clots from forming or reduce clots actively present. Heparin does this by binding to a protein called antithrombin III, ultimately affecting the proteases thrombin and Factor Xa, which both play important roles in blood clot formation. You can read some of C&EN's heparin coverage here and here. We've known that heparin affects blood clotting since 1916, but the stuff's been extraordinarily tough to replace. Today there exist many different heparin-type products. Garden-variety unfractionated heparin is used in certain surgeries and in kidney-dialysis patients. Fractionated heparins like the low-molecular-weight heparin Lovenox are used to prevent and treat dangerous blood clots in the leg veins of patients on bedrest or who are having a hip or knee replacement. And there are synthetic pentasaccharides like fondaparinux, essentially made from the business end of heparin, which affect only Factor Xa. All of these products have the same inconvenience- they all must be given via injection. And outside the fondaparinux-type drugs, it's not easy to manufacture them from scratch in a lab because the structures are so unwieldy and heterogenous. There are a slew of drugs in the pipeline that target Factor Xa or thrombin directly, that are straightforward molecular entities, and that drugmakers would love to see replace heparins and their coagulation...

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