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SDK Develops New Catalyst for Tetralone Synthesis

September 1, 2004

Showa Denko K.K. (SDK) has developed a new catalyst for synthesizing ¦Á-tetralone, an important intermediate in the production of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. The catalyst is the fruit of SDK’s participation in the national project for developing new solid acid catalyst processes, which forms part of “Development of Next-Generation Chemical Process Technology” program implemented by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Japan Chemical Innovation Institute (JCII).

Having both a benzene ring and six membered cyclic ketone in its molecular structure, ¦Á-tetralone is used for the synthesis of carbaryl (insecticide) and sertraline (antidepressant). The world market for sertraline is approx. ¥300 billion per year. Thus, the market for ¦Á-tetralone as a pharmaceutical / agrochemical intermediate is expected to exceed ¥5 billion a year.

Currently, ¦Á-tetralone is being produced using metallic reagents, such as aluminum chloride, and through multi-stage reaction processes. Since this production method results in a large volume of wastes, it has been pointed out that a more environment-friendly production method is necessary.

SDK has developed the innovative solid acid catalyst for ¦Á-tetralone synthesis by fully utilizing its expertise in catalyst development for acetic acid, ethyl acetate and other chemicals. The new catalyst technology offers the following advantages:

  • 1.Compared with the conventional method that uses aluminum chloride or other metallic reagents, the new solid acid catalyst technology enables a substantial reduction in the volume of wastes.
  • 2. ¦Á-tetralone can be produced by one step from p-xylene, or other benzene derivatives, and cyclic lactone. This substantially reduces production cost compared with the conventional multi-stage synthesis.
  • 3.The new technology enables the synthesis of a-benzosuberone with a benzene ring and seven membered cyclic ketone, which is under development as a new pharmaceutical/agrochemical intermediate.

SDK is carrying out a medium-term consolidated business plan, the Sprout Project, by pursuing technical synergies through the interconnections of inorganic/aluminum and organic chemical technologies and by the use of market-oriented business strategies. To further cultivate core technologies and accelerate R&D, SDK uses its technology platform (TPF) organization. The High Performance Catalyst TPF will take the lead in further developing the new catalyst technology for commercialization.


1. Terminology

  • Solid acid catalyst
    Solid catalysts, such as zeolite and silica-alumina, that have strongly acidic sites on their surfaces. They are relatively inexpensive and provide easy separation from reaction products. Their applications could be broadened through such additional modifications as holding various metal elements on the catalyst surfaces.
  • Technology Platforms
    SDK has established 27 technology platforms (TPFs) that represent respective elements of the Group’s core technologies at present and for the future. SDK Group researchers, totaling more than 500, are assigned to one of these TPFs, transcending the business boundary and operation sites.

2. Supplementary information

  • More than 1,000 tons a year of ¦Á-tetralone is being produced as a pharmaceutical / agrochemical intermediate, generating approx. 6,000 tons of metallic compounds as waste. The newly developed catalyst will help reduce the waste.
  • Development efforts are under way for an anticonvulsant and a drug for treating obesity, using a-benzosuberone as intermediate.

3. Molecular structures