A research team at the University of Leicester, part of Leicester Green Chemistry Group, has developed novel solvent systems which are recyclable and environmentally compatible.
The team led by Drs. Andy Abbott and David Davies has developed a wide range of new ionic liquids made from simple precursors.
Ionic liquids have been studied extensively in recent years as they offer a potentially clean way to carry out chemical processes. They are non-volatile, while liquid over a wide range of temperatures, and offer a benign alternative to, for example, some strong acids.
In order to commercialize the technology, a joint venture company, Scionix Ltd, has been set up. It brings together the business and marketing skills of Genacys Ltd, a subsidiary of the Whyte Group Ltd., with the cross-disciplinary scientific skills of the team based at the University of Leicester.
These novel liquids can be used for a variety of applications including metal finishing (e.g., highly efficient chromium plating), catalysis (e.g., Friedel-Crafts reactions), batteries and metal recovery (e.g., waste-product reprocessing), among others.
Further benefits include limited sensitivity to water, readily available in large quantities and at comparable cost to many volatile organic solvents (VOS).
Until now, industrial uptake of ionic liquids has been limited by the extremely high cost of previous materials together with the moisture sensitivity and environmental incompatibility of aluminum-containing salts.
The Scionix team has shown (as recently published in Chemical Communications 2001, 2010-1) that mixtures of zinc chloride (found in some skin ointments and batteries) and choline chloride (a common additive to chicken feed) form non-volatile liquids at ambient temperatures.
These novel materials represent a cost reduction of more than one order of magnitude over previous ionic liquids.
Furthermore, as the use of VOS is environmentally hazardous, measures such as the Montreal protocol to limit the use of these solvents will necessitate the use of alternative solvent systems. Ionic liquids are now well placed to take advantage of the new marketplace.
Leicester Green Chemistry Group
[Contact: Dr. Andy Abbott, Dr. David Davies]