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Hydrogenation Innovations

Grace continues to expand the capabilities and reputation of RANEY® nickel catalysts
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A brief history of RANEY® nickel

In the early 1920s, Murray Raney developed a new nickel hydrogenation catalyst for converting cottonseed oil to shortening.

At its inception, RANEY® nickel catalyst was a nickel-silicon alloy in which much of the silicon was removed through a leaching process. The loss of silicon created a sponge-like morphology that resulted in a high surface area—and high activity. Later, aluminum replaced silicon, as nickel-aluminum alloys exhibited even better activity.

Over the years, RANEY® nickel catalyst has become a versatile synthetic tool. It’s used today in a myriad of industries such as petrochemicals, plastics, food products, and pharmaceuticals.

Innovation leads to enhanced catalyst properties

Since acquiring RANEY® catalyst in 1963, W. R. Grace & Company has continued innovating to meet customer needs.

“We have extended the technology in several noteworthy areas,” says Steve Schmidt, a research fellow at Grace who has worked on RANEY® catalyst for 34 years and has authored multiple publications and patents on the subject.

Grace has designed shelf-stable, fixed-bed catalysts that do not require the previous practice of in situ activation by customers, thus sparing them additional by-product waste management. The company offers best-in-class cobalt catalysts for both slurry and fixed-bed reactors, as well as tailored copper catalysts for amino acid synthesis. Grace has also developed specialty nickel catalysts that incorporate other transition metals, known as promoters, to further promote selectivity, stability, and activity.

“The versatility [of RANEY® catalyst ] is an asset, and that versatility continues to broaden because we have many ‘degrees of freedom’ in terms of unusual promoters to address customers’ catalyst needs,” Schmidt says. “Much of the periodic table, at least the  transition metals, is part of our toolbox.”

Meeting customer needs through catalyst customization

The expertise that Grace has cultivated over the past 58 years allows the company to leverage its manufacturing assets to tailor RANEY® catalysts to customers’ specifications.

In one example, an amines producer required higher selectivity and durability than its incumbent fixed-bed, nickel catalyst could provide, and Grace recommended a RANEY® cobalt catalyst product to replace it. But the customer indicated that its application still necessitated a narrower particle size distribution and higher activity from the cobalt catalyst.

Additional collaboration and testing translated to improvements in Grace’s manufacturing process and more desirable catalyst properties. The physical integrity of the cobalt catalyst was strengthened, extending catalyst lifetime, and greater selectivity was achieved, which improved production efficiency and yield.

After this initial success, the customer adopted the same RANEY® cobalt catalyst at a second manufacturing site, with a much shorter introductory period.

After this initial success, the customer adopted the same RANEY® cobalt catalyst at a second manufacturing site, with a much shorter introductory period.

 

The versatility [of RANEY® catalyst] is an asset, and that versatility continues to broaden because we have many ‘degrees of freedom’ in terms of unusual promoters to address customers’ catalyst needs

Steve Schmidt

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