Why It's Worth Understanding What 'Mechanochemistry' Is
Mechanochemistry involves a chemical reaction that does not utilize solvents.
Since solvents can be both toxic and costly, mechanochemistry promises to lower costs and provide a greener approach to manufacturing.
University of Cincinnati associate professor James Mack addressed the International Symposium on Mechanochemistry in China recently, courtesy of some groundbreaking research he and his team at UC have been conducting.
Dr. Mack spoke with Benzinga about that research and the implications for industry and the world at large.
Benzinga: Could you explain the primary differences between solvent-based reactions and mechanochemistry?
James Mack: Absolutely. There are many ways to conduct a chemical reaction. You need molecules to interact with one another and you need energy to get a reaction to occur.
You could think about it as jumping over a wall. You need to have enough energy to clear the height of the wall to make it to the other side.
Typically, we use heat to provide the energy source to get a chemical reaction, to overcome what we call the activation barrier. We typically use a solvent to mix them together.
The two keys are mixing things together and providing the energy to overcome an activation barrier.
Instead of using a solvent, mechanochemistry grinds things down to a small particle size, and that way, they can become mixed together.
BZ: How does that work?
JM: We use a vial with a ball bearing inside, put inside of an instrument that shakes it back and forth very rapidly. The impact of the ball on the molecules crushes them down to a small particle size.
If you've ever been to a dentist's office, they have this thing called the wiggle bug that they use to make the amalgam for fillings, and that mixes things together.
That's where you get the mixing part. Then, you need enough energy.
The force behind the ball impacting the molecules is the force and the energy that's going to cause the chemical reaction to occur.
Those two together are called mechanochemistry or using mechanical energy to cause a chemical reaction.
BZ: How can mechanochemistry save money in the manufacturing process?
JM: Mechanochemistry saves money on the solvent. You need solvent to mix things together, but in reality, the solvent is just something that's used to mix things together and then thrown away.
The purchase of the solvent costs money. Not only do you have to purchase solvent to begin with, you have to remove the solvent.
Finally, you have to dispose of the waste.
Therefore, from a cost savings standpoint, (with mechanochemistry) you don't have to buy the solvent initially and you don't have to pay to get rid of it.
You're making money on both ends from that standpoint.
BZ: What about environmental concerns with regard to mechanochemistry versus a solvent-based process?
JM: That's a very good point. We want to develop greener reactions. One of our goals is to look at our chemical reaction and see when we can remove solvent and actually use safer chemicals to do a chemical process.
The overall process (with mechanochemistry) is much greener than you would do traditionally.
We recently published an article where we did a comparison between the traditional way of doing things and doing things in our mechanochemical fashion.
The mechanochemical one clearly was greener than the traditional way to do it.
BZ: Has there been any interest expressed by manufacturers?
JM: Right now, it's at the beginning stages. It's really new.
We are working on being able to scale these things up. Some people have done that. Much of this work is being done in Germany. Some work is being done in the United States.
BZ: What are some of the problems intendant in scaling up the mechanochemical process?
JM: It's a philosophical change. Many people are resistant to change.
In addition, we have a lot of technology in the transport of liquids through pipes and pressure, and we know that really well.
Now, you have to learn how to transport solids through things. You can't just take the old things that you were doing, apply this new method to it, and then go off and do the new thing.
We have to learn a new way to do things. There might be a different way people might go about doing it altogether that we just haven't thought of yet.
At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.
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