A process for the commercial production of a family of Warwick-invented
organometallic catalysts has been developed and patented by Johnson
Matthey (JM). The catalysts — which have been sold internationally to
several fine chemical and pharmaceutical companies in kilogram quantities,
capable of producing tonnes of product — are in widespread industrial use
for synthesis and scale-up. Other companies have protected, and are
marketing, similar `copycat' catalysts. JM continues to work in
collaboration with Warwick Chemistry on the next generation of catalysts.
Studies into the deactivation and regeneration of heteropoly acid
catalysts, which took place in the group of Professor Ivan Kozhevnikov at
Liverpool University since 1996, resulted in the large-scale industrial
application of these catalysts in BP's process for the synthesis of the
widely used solvent ethyl acetate, thus making significant economic and
environmental impact. This process, trademarked AVADA (for AdVanced
Acetates by Direct Addition of acetic acid to
ethylene), was launched in 2001 at Hull, UK, on a scale of 220,000 tonnes
p.a., then the world's largest ethyl acetate production plant. The impact
continued through the REF period from 2008 to 2013. In October 2011, the
AVADA process produced 56% of the ethyl acetate in Europe (245,000 tonnes
p.a. production capacity and $340m p.a. factory gate value), being the
second largest in the world after the Zhenjiang 270,000 tonnes p.a. ethyl
acetate plant in China. Over the REF period, the AVADA process produced
1.2 million tonnes of ethyl acetate worth $1.7 billion. The AVADA process
makes ethyl acetate with 100% atom efficiency, avoiding the use of ethanol
as an intermediate. It beats conventional processes in environmental
friendliness by reducing energy consumption by 20% and feedstock losses by
35%, thus removing more than 100,000 tonnes p.a. of wastewater stream. At
the heart of the AVADA process is a highly efficient heteropoly acid
catalyst that is responsible for its superior performance. Implementation
of measures improving catalyst stability and resistance to coking, which
originated from collaboration between the Kozhevnikov group and BP
Chemicals, prevented otherwise fast catalyst deactivation to create an
economically viable process.
Research carried out by Malcolm Green's group in the UOA led to the
spin-out of Oxford Catalysts Ltd. A large part of the company's technology
is based on Green's transition-metal catalysis research, which has enabled
them to develop a highly efficient Fischer-Tropsch (FT) catalyst to
convert natural gas to liquid hydrocarbons. In 2010, Oxford Catalysts
Group (now Velocys) demonstrated the world's first smaller-scale, modular
gas-to-liquids and biomass-to-liquids FT plants which made use of the
catalyst for the efficient conversion of low-value or waste gas to liquid
hydrocarbon fuels. Since then, orders worth £ 8M have been taken and the
company has been selected to provide FT technology for 4 commercial
projects. From 2008 - 2012, the company raised over £ 60M, achieved
revenue of £ 30M and now employs around 90 people.
Research at UEA over a 20 year period in the area of olefin
polymerisation catalysis has had significant economic impact
This research project, carried out at the University of Derby, was used
to develop an engine performance monitoring system and a data optimisation
method for engine management systems for Land Rover. The project delivered
two pieces of software developed for data modelling and optimisation with
respect to the engine test bed. This has significantly reduced the engine
test time on the test bed by up to 30%, reduced the cost of each engine
test and provided optimum engine operation parameters to the Engine
Control Unit (ECU), which has resulted in lower emissions and improved
fuel economy. The project was started in 2000 and completed in 2008.
However the outcomes of the research and developed software tools are
still used by the Land Rover engine test group.
Using powertrain system models arising from QUB research Wrightbus
Ltd developed an advanced eco-friendly hybrid diesel-electric bus
which won the New Bus for London contract worth £230M supplying 600
buses to Transport for London (commencing August 2012).
Demonstrating highly significant economic and environmental impacts the
bus has twice the fuel economy of a standard diesel and emits less than
half the CO2 and NOx. The full fleet reduces
annual CO2 emissions in London by 230,000 tonnes,
improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gases.
The company continues to develop the technology in new hybrid vehicles reaching
worldwide, including USA, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
Implementing measures that can maintain, as well as improve air quality
is a constant challenge faced by local authorities, especially in
metropolitan cities. The AVERT, EPSRC/DTI link project, led by Samuel and
Morrey of Oxford Brookes University, were tasked at identifying and
proposing a new strategy to limit the amount of pollutants from vehicles
dynamically using remote sensing and telematics. Firstly, it established
the magnitude of real-world emission levels from modern passenger vehicles
using a newly developed drive-cycle. Secondly, it demonstrated a broad
framework and limitations for using existing on-board computer diagnostic
systems (OBD) and remote sensing schemes for the identification of gross
polluting vehicles. Finally, it provided a strategy for controlling the
vehicle to meet air pollution requirements. The outcomes had direct impact
on Government policy on "Cars of the Future", roadside emission
monitoring, and the business strategies for both the Go-Ahead Group and
Cardiff University, through developing and patenting a commercially
viable synthetic route to a catalyst, has enabled the application of a new
process, the Alpha Process, for the production of methyl methacrylate
(MMA), a key commodity precursor to Perspex. The Alpha Process has had
economic and environmental impacts.
Lucite International, the world's leading MMA producer, has invested in
major Alpha Process production facilities in Singapore and Saudi Arabia,
benefitting from a production route which is more efficient, more reliable
and cheaper than conventional routes.
The Alpha Process also brings environmental benefits, as it does not rely
on the use of corrosive and toxic feedstocks, such as hydrogen cyanide,
which are associated with conventional MMA processes.
The selection of ligand(s) for the transition metal complexes that are
frequently employed as catalysts for the production of fine chemicals is a
key activity ultimately governing the financial viability of the process.
Traditionally, the method for discovery of ligands with the appropriate
balance of cost and efficiency has been achieved empirically via
screening. This Impact Case Study reports on the development of a novel
methodology for the qualitative and quantitative analysis and prediction
of the effect of ligand structure on the catalytic activity of
late-transition metals. It has been applied in process and discovery
chemistry in pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries in the UK (and
beyond). The analysis allows rapid, and therefore cost efficient,
identification of ligands and catalysts with the potential to bypass
intellectual property issues.