April 11, 2014 – The EPA has awarded Reactive Innovations, LLC a contract to develop a new synthesis system for producing dimethyl carbonate (DMC). Presently, there are very few U.S. manufacturers for producing DMC, an environmentally benign and non-flammable solvent used in numerous applications. This strategically important solvent is used in numerous products ranging from batteries to plastics with most production occurring in China. DMC is a favored solvent for lithium ion batteries due to its low volatility and non-flammable nature that can withstand large voltage windows and temperature excursions. Other applications for DMC include using it as an environmentally benign substitute for toxic phosgene and dimethyl sulfate in carbonylation and methylation reactions. In the manufacturing of polycarbonate, phosgene is used which can be replaced with DMC. Current annual production of polycarbonate is two million tons worldwide with an expected increase of 5-10% annually. DMC is also used in the synthesis of isocyanates which is subsequently used to produce polyurethane, coating materials, and insecticides. The demand for polyurethane resin was recently at 7.6 billion pounds in the US driven by building insulation, coatings, and adhesives.
Dimethyl carbonate production methods have historically involved toxic and hazardous reagents or produced harmful by-products. For instance, the phosgene method reacts methanol with phosgene in the presence of an aqueous alkali metal hydroxide solution and an inert, water-immiscible organic solvent. These prior methods for DMC production have all suffered from low yields, the need for corrosion resistant reactors, toxicity, and explosive potentials. Additionally, these systems have required high energy consumption, and high investment cost and production costs owing to the requirement to separate intermediates. Consequently, there has been a push to develop one-pot or batch synthesis of DMC from carbon dioxide and methanol.
A greener manufacturing method is being developed by Reactive Innovations to produce DMC that will not only enable US manufacturing of this important solvent, but will do so using an efficient reactor that minimizes energy and waste streams. This EPA contract will develop a micro-channel reactor using carbon dioxide and methanol feedstocks enabling high production levels to be obtained continuously unlike present production methods.