20 September 1999 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]By Clay Boswell
CasChem, a Cambrex subsidiary, has entered the market for sebacic acid with a proprietary manufacturing process and a dedicated, fully automated plant in Bayonne, N.J. John Van Hulle, president of the Cambrex Specialty Chemicals Group, says that CasChem's entry will grow demand for the castor oil derivative, which has until now had only one producer in North America--Arizona Chemical, a Dover, Ohio, subsidiary of International Paper.
The dibasic, C10 acid has three primary markets, says Leigh Bolt, business manager for castor oil derivatives. The largest of these is the production of esters for use in personal care products, lubricants and plasticizers. Another is the production of nylon copolymers and terpolymers, particularly nylon 610, the water-resistant nylon. Sebacic acid is also used in hot-melt adhesives.
There are approximately 200 castor oil derivatives, and CasChem, which has been in the castor oil business since 1840, produces all of them except for undecylenic acid. Produced primarily by Atochem, undecylenic acid is used in the manufacture of fuel, air, and brake tubing.
Sebacic acid is the derivative with the second largest market, but Caschem began production only at the urging of customers, who appreciated its performance as an additive but were wary of relying on a single domestic supplier, says Mr. Van Hulle. Other dibasic acids, such as adipic or azelaic acid, are available as alternatives, but they are not in-kind replacements.
Like other manufacturers, CasChem cracks castor oil to obtain sebacic acid, but the company's patented process differs by using a proprietary diluent rather than cresol, which is more typical. "We spent a lot of time developing a diluent that enhances the cracking process," says Mr. Van Hulle. The result is also more environmentally friendly; the diluent is recovered and reused rather than discarded.
Castor oil is a C18 molecule. Co-products of the C10 sebacic acid are two C8 compounds, 2-octanol and 2-octanone. CasChem offers them in high purity, and each has broad utility. Markets for 2-octanol range from mining and industrial solvents to personal care, where the alcohol can be used as an odor-masker or in the production of esters. 2-Octanone is used as a specialized industrial solvent, but it also finds application in the flavor and fragrance industry, where it imparts a black currant flavor.
"One of the reasons we like this process is that both the sebacic acid side of the molecule and the C8 side have true value from a specialty chemical point of view--it's not the kind of situation where one co-product is always a dog," says Mr. Van Hulle. "In both cases, we have broad markets with a strong basis for growth."
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