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Putting Safety Numbers On Aerobic Oxidation Reactions

Pharma industry-academic consortium collects data to enable safe use of O2 with organic solvents in drug manufacturing

by Stephen K. Ritter
January 12, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 2

Aerobic oxidations have much appeal in organic synthesis for their efficiency, yet they are often avoided in the production of pharmaceuticals because mixtures of O2 and solvents can create a flammable atmosphere. Instead of taking a gamble, process chemists and engineers tend to avoid oxidations altogether and use reagents bought at the required or higher oxidation state. To address this issue, a research team led by Paul M. Osterberg of chemical process safety firm Fauske & Associates, in Burr Ridge, Ill., and Shannon S. Stahl of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has filled a knowledge gap by experimentally determining safe operating conditions for using O2 with nine common organic solvents (Org. Process Res. Dev. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/op500328f). The research was performed as part of a “precompetitive” consortium involving Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer, and Merck & Co., formed to promote the development and application of aerobic oxidations for manufacturing. Using an explosion-compatible reactor, the researchers measured the minimum partial pressure of O2 that will support a combustible mixture with each solvent at the elevated temperatures and pressures used in production-scale reactions—values that provide benchmarks for safe application of aerobic oxidations.

Credit: Org. Process Res. Dev.
Table shows safer procedures for using solvents in aerobic oxidations.
Credit: Org. Process Res. Dev.


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