A new method for generating fluorochemicals makes it much safer and cheaper to produce many chemical and pharmaceutical products
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Spotted: Fluorochemicals are a group of chemicals that are currently used in a large number of important applications. They are vital for the production of many polymers, agrochemicals, and pharmaceuticals, as well as lithium-ion batteries. Almost all fluorochemicals are generated from hydrogen fluoride (HF) – a toxic and corrosive gas. And the production of fluorochemicals is not only dangerous, it is also highly energy-intensive.
However, a new approach, originally pioneered at Oxford University, can synthesise fluorochemicals from the mineral fluorspar, using far less energy and with much greater safety. The process is being developed by FluoRok, which was spun out of the original research group.
In a study published by FluoRok in Science, the company described the direct conversion of the fluorspar into fluorochemicals. In the method, the crystalline mineral called fluorspar (CaF2) is activated by a process that mimics the way that calcium phosphate forms in teeth and bones. The CaF2 was ground with powdered potassium phosphate salt. The resulting powder, called Fluoromix, can then be used to synthesise more than 50 different fluorochemicals, with up to 98 per cent yield.
The researchers describe the new process as “a paradigm shift” in how fluorochemicals are manufactured – as well as a massive cost savings. FluoRok recently raised £3 million in seed funding from Oxford Science Enterprises. The money will be used to develop and commercialise the technology.
FluoRok is not the only innovator exploring ways to produce chemicals with less energy. Some other developments we have seen include a solid-state storage method to preserve biological materials without refrigeration and the use of captured CO2 to manufacture chemicals and fuel.
Written By: Lisa Magloff