Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Critical Application of Ring Opening Polymerization

Between the ring-opening polymerization post I guest blogged and yesterday's clever ring-opening/vinyl copolymerization , ring-opening polymerization is now the hot topic around here and today is no different. Nylon-12, a polyamide prepared by the ring-opening polymerization of laurolactam is in very short supply following a fire/explosion at a key manufacturing plant. The Evonik plant involved doesn't actually make the laurolactam, but an unsaturated precursor, cyclododecatriene (a trimer of butadiene). Nylon-12 is critical to auto makers as they use it for such critical components as fuel and brake lines. Alternative materials could be used, but as conservative as auto makers are, and as important as these applications are to driver safety, approving the new materials will take quite a bit of time.

So how bad is the shortage? Well judging by the coverage in blogs (Plastics New, The New York Times , and even The Huffington Post (that normally is extremely chemophobic)) as well as mainstream media (Bloomberg News , USA Today , and The Financial Times ), this story has caught the attention of people around the world.

Interestingly, the Auto News has a blog post from someone who isn't overly concerned about the matter, thinking that the supply chain experts will work things out. Such efforts are already in process. There was an emergency meeting in Detroit yesterday to discuss just this shortage (a rare case when the automakers can get together and discuss supply issues without worrying about anti-trust actions). Among this all, there are hints and rumors that this could even lead to production stoppages, but hopefully it won't go that far.

It's rather shocking to find out the world is so dependent on ring-opening polymerization, isn't it?

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