“Hydroformylation’s Diamond Jubilee” was an enjoyable read about the history of hydroformylation technology (C&EN, April 22, page 38). It brought back good memories of the role and importance of the fine and specialty chemicals business in supporting big-volume commodities such as oxo alcohols and other downstream products.
In the late 1980s, the BISBI (bidentate ligand) team at Eastman Texas was developing a new class of phosphines to allow them to fine-tune the normal/iso (N:I) ratio of product. The oxo reaction gives a mixture of isomeric products: the normal (linear) aldehyde and the iso (branched) variant. Although both can be converted into useful products, for most companies the linear version is the preferred isomer. The original cobalt catalyst gave an N:I ratio of 4:1. Addition of phosphines improved this to 8:1.
The research and development group at M&T Chemicals, then in Rahway, N.J., partnered with the Eastman group in a collaborative development project. We had a technology base with commercial-scale Grignard chemistry and expertise in phosphine synthesis. We worked to scale up to commercial quantities of their new bidentate phosphine ligands. It was a pleasure working with the fine and capable group of scientists and engineers from Eastman Texas. Thanks for the memories.
Philip E. Rakita