The Sohio Acrylonitrile Process
In 1957, researchers developed a single-step way to produce acrylonitrile — a key raw material for many everyday fibers and plastics.
Chances are that acrylonitrile touches everyone in some way every day. Acrylonitrile is the key ingredient in the acrylic fiber used to make clothing and carpeting; in acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), a durable material used in automobile components, telephone and computer casings, and sports equipment; and in nitrile rubber, which is used in the manufacture of hoses for pumping fuel.
Acrylonitrile is used to produce plastics that are impermeable to gases and are ideal for shatterproof bottles that hold chemicals and cosmetics, clear “blister packs” that keep meats fresh and medical supplies sterile, and packaging for many other products. It is also a component in plastic resins, paints, adhesives, and coatings.
The acrylonitrile in those products was made by a process discovered and developed in the 1950s by scientists and engineers at The Standard Oil Company, or Sohio, which became part of British Petroleum (BP) in 1987. The process is a single-step direct method for manufacturing acrylonitrile from propylene, ammonia, and air over a fluidized bed catalyst. The acrylonitrile manufacturing and catalyst and licensing businesses are now part of INEOS.
The discovery and commercialization of this process were the result of the talent, imagination, teamwork, and risk-taking by Sohio’s employees. Sohio’s discovery led to the production of plentiful and inexpensive acrylonitrile of high purity as a raw material and to dramatic growth in the thermoplastics, synthetic fiber, and food packaging industries.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about acrylonitrile.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program