You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Academic Chemistry’ tag.

It is not uncommon to read in chemistry papers or hear speakers from academic institutions making the assertion that certain problems exist that their method or reagent may solve. Perhaps a particular catalyst may give rise to a set of useful transformations or said catalyst may be fished out and reused in many other runs. Or, maybe the reagent in development affords spectacular yields or stereoselectivity. Given that an industry might have blockbuster products that share certain features or pharmacophores, an efficient method for synthesizing that feature is likely to be of genuine interest.

Chemical research coming from an academic institution in the USA is almost always executed by students and/or postdocs. In the case of graduate students, the work is done as part of their degree program and is designed to achieve certain goals or to explore a question. Regardless, it is not done to achieve a commercial purpose with product sales in mind. Student research is conducted with training and publication success as the goal. Graduate success and publication are the work products of academics.

If it transpires that a particular academic wants to do work that is also of commercial interest, that work should include certain commercial sensibilities associated with chemical production. Every business has its own list of development criteria in use. It will have a basis on in-house equipment and skills, company policy, safety, economic imperatives, working capital, required profit margins, environmental permits, available economies of scale, specialty or commodity products, etc.

Adopting a new reagent for an existing chemical product can be very problematic for a business. For production pharmaceuticals, it is likely to be impossible for management to actually contemplate the trouble involved in changing an approved process. For other industries a similar problem exists. Changing a reagent in an existing process will likely require the customer to approve the change and the drafting of an updated specification. And, for their trouble they are going to demand a reduced price. I’ve received and given that talking to on a few occasions myself.

If the change is very early in the reaction sequence of a lined-out process, there may be a chance to do a replacement or change a step. Maybe. Remember that customers usually do not like change in regard to the chemical product they are purchasing. They want and need consistency. Even improving purity can be bad if it results in the final product surprising the end-user in some way.

I would offer that if an academic worker wants to make a difference in commerce, they should concentrate on the final product in the application. It may be that an existing product could be made cheaper by your wonder reagent, or perhaps some me-too congener. Your reagent may be superior in a functional group transformation, but that is likely to draw yawns. How does your reagent add value to a process in concrete terms?

By adding value I mean to say, increasing profit margins. Costs in manufacturing are broadly divided into raw materials, labor, cost of sales and other overhead. They are not all easy to minimize. For instance, a mature product may be priced according to commodity scale pressures. That is, there are numerous suppliers and low margins in the market for producers. If the cost of goods sold is driven strongly by raw material costs, unless you can wangle a breakthrough in raw mat prices, staying price competitive may involve a race to the bottom of the lake. However, if labor is the major driver of cost, you may have a chance to increase margins by reduction in man-hours per unit. That reduction would come from any of a number of labor saving strategies.

Labor savings can come in many forms. More efficient use of existing equipment can lead to an increase of capacity and throughput over the year if the turnaround time between runs is shortened. Process intensification can also increase throughput and consequently reduced labor hours per kg of product. Higher reaction temperatures benefit kinetics as do increased space yields by running at higher concentrations. Just beware of the reaction enthalpy per kg of reaction mass (specific enthalpy). It is very possible to over-intensify and bring on problems with safe operation and side reactions.

For the academic aiming to be technologically relevant in a concrete way you have to think like the owner of big equipment. Idle equipment is not earning revenue. Busy equipment at least has a chance if it is done efficiently. Telescoping a process so that more steps can be run in the same vessel without solvent changes or excessive purification is always desirable. Moving material between vessels is time consuming and likely labor intensive.

More questions to consider. Does a reaction really require an overnight stir-out. And at reflux? Do you have a method of in-process checks that allow the next step to proceed? What is the minimum solvent grade you can get away with? Can you replace methylene chloride with anything else? What is the minimum purity raw material you can get away with? Unnecessarily high purity specs can be very expensive. Your customer will suffer from this as well.

Learn to get pricing from bulk suppliers. Use those unit prices for your cost calculations. For God’s sake, don’t use the Aldrich catalog for pricing. Remember, you’re trying to make a case for your technology. There should be a costing spreadsheet in your write up.

That’s enough for now. I gotta go home.

 

Archives

Blog Stats

  • 538,013 hits