INEOS Nitriles breakthough secures global supply of acetonitrile

INEOS, today announced a technological breakthrough that will significantly improve the global security of supply for acetonitrile. Changes to its technology has recently been implemented at Seal Sands (UK), Lima, Ohio (USA) and Green Lake, Texas (USA).

Acetonitrile is an essential solvent used in the production of pharmaceuticals such as insulin and antibiotics. Its use in liquid chromatography for chemical analysis and research is important in checking the component parts of foods or pharmaceuticals, to test their safety or efficacy.

Given the complexity of producing acetonitrile directly, it is mainly obtained as a co-product from the acrylonitrile process. Acrylonitrile is extensively used in plastics for the manufacture of cars, appliances and electronic goods. The collapse of demand for these durable goods last year dramatically reduced production of acrylonitrile, which in turn led directly to a shortage of acetonitrile worldwide.

As the world’s largest acrylonitrile producer, INEOS facilities supply around 40% of the world’s acetonitrile.

INEOS Nitriles technology allows us far more flexibility to produce around 50% more acetonitrile during periods of weak acrylonitrile demand, without having to increase the production of acrylonitrile.” says Rob Nevin, CEO INEOS Nitriles. “This technology is a major breakthrough that has implications across a broad range of pharmaceutical, food and industrial processes. The resulting flexibility means we can increase acetonitrile production as demand increases, removing any concerns that our customers may have about security of supply in the future.” 

The new technology is now operational at INEOS Nitriles US plants in Lima, Ohio and Green Lake, Texas and, with the assistance of key acetonitrile partners, has now been installed successfully on the Seal Sands facility in Teesside (UK).


Media contacts:

Richard Longden (INEOS): 02380 287037 or 07710 371998

Note to editor:

Anyone involved in drug synthesis, agricultural chemical manufacture, HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) use, peptide and oligonucleotide synthesis, and many other key applications is acutely aware of the recent global shortage of the solvent, acetonitrile.

Acetonitrile has traditionally been made via the propylene ammoxidation process developed by the former Standard Oil Company of Ohio (the SOHIO Process). The SOHIO Process produces primarily acrylonitrile, with acetonitrile comprising approximately 3% of the plant output. The SOHIO Process became part of BP Chemicals in the mid 1980’s via BP’s acquisition of Standard Oil and the process was later sold to INEOS in 2005.

The global recession dramatically reduced the need for acrylonitrile derivatives (e.g. ABS plastics and acrylic fibre), which reduced the production of acrylonitrile and its co-product acetonitrile. This economic contraction led to shortages of acetonitrile and increasing prices in the spot market.

The crisis in the car industry has led to a global shortage of a chemical solvent [acetonitrile] used for everything from checking the mould level in a chocolate bar to making sure a tablet of aspirin is safe.
[Alarm over shortage of chemical solvent, by Bertrand Benoit. FT. March 10th 2009]