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Bifunctional catalyst enables economically viable production of bio-based acrylates

By Scott Jenkins |

The prospects for a bio-based route to acrylates (diagram) received a significant boost recently, when startup company Låkril Technologies Corp. (Chicago, Ill.; www.lakril.com) licensed technology from the laboratory of Paul Dauenhauer at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minn.; twin-cities.umn.edu). Dauenhauer has invented a catalyst said to be the first in the world capable of generating yields greater than 90% in the dehydration reaction of lactate to acrylate. Previous efforts to catalyze the reaction typically achieve yields of only 50–60% — too low to make the transformation an economically viable alternative to the petroleum-based route to acrylic acid (which is accomplished by the oxidation of propylene). Låkril has obtained funding to scale up production of the catalyst and further develop the technology for commercial use. The company plans to start commercial production in late 2024. The catalyst under development is an acidic solid zeolite (aluminosilicate) that has been functionalized with an engineered amine. The rationale for adding functionalization came out of previous mechanistic studies of the dehydration reaction. When lactate comes into contact with zeolite, dehydration or decarbonylation can…
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