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Chemical Manufacturing

The Chemical Manufacturing Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about process equipment and control, biotech & environmental, specialty chemicals and nano-engineering. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

North America Tops in Biopolymers

Posted May 19, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

The market for biopolymers - those containing material produced from renewable sources - is growing rapidly, driven largely by industrial demand in North America and Europe, with Asia following close behind. Currently, North America is the largest market for biopolymers, consuming more than one-third of total demand, according to a recently released market research report. Packaging is the largest application, representing more than 57% of demand. The most common biopolymer types are polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polylactic acid.

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1 comments; last comment on 05/20/2014
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Regulators Unprepared for Nanotech Risks?

Posted April 16, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Are regulators prepared for the potential risks posed by nanotechnology? According to a survey by universities in the U.S. and Canada, the answer is no. Survey respondents who viewed the risks of nanotechnology as new territory - including nano-scientists and engineers, environmental health and safety scientists, and regulators - tended to have the least trust in regulatory mechanisms to manage the potential risks. In fact, representatives of regulatory agencies themselves felt most strongly that they were ill-prepared to deal with nanotechnology.

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3 comments; last comment on 04/23/2014
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Chemical Imaging Brings Faster Tissue Analysis

Posted March 18, 2014 12:00 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Examination of a living tissue, or biopsy, is often the best way to determine the existence or extent of a disease such as cancer. The downside is that it can take weeks to obtain a final result - time that is critical to a patient getting proper treatment. Now, researchers have developed a new method of chemical imaging analysis that is far less time consuming and can provide more detailed information than standard histological tests. The new test will enable physicians to more quickly determine the best treatment.

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The Popularity And Place Of Ethylene Oxide In The Global Medical Industry

Posted October 19, 2013 12:00 AM by CR4 Guest Author
Pathfinder Tags: ethylene oxide

Ethylene Oxide (EtO) has become very common over the years as a portable and effective sterilising agent. It is essential to understand what it is, how it works and what its particular place is in the global medical industry.

Sterilising Agent

At one time, heat sterilisation was the only available method, but technological advancements have brought a host of new options, including EtO. Ethylene Oxide is a colourless gas that has a wide range of industrial uses from textiles to detergents and solvents. The U.S. military was first to use it as a sterilising agent in the 1940s, and it made the transition to civilian hospitals in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, a process was invented by Harold Andersen that used a gas diffusion method, requiring less EtO than previous methods. Small ampoules and plastic bags took the place of large chambers.

This process, called the Anprolene system, has proved to be an important advancement, as the need for sterilisation has increased greatly over the years. The rise in the number of surgeries being performed and an aging population are contributing factors to the growing need. Having more options and available technologies to meet that need is of tremendous importance.

Advantages of EtO

One of the advantages of EtO is that it is particularly effective in sterilising instruments and objects that are sensitive to high temperatures, such as those that use plastic packaging or that contain delicate electronics or optics. EtO can penetrate thin surfaces well, such as cloth, paper and even plastic films, enabling it to kill microbes in hard-to-reach places. EtO is lethal to all known forms of bacterial, viral and fungal life, though some require longer exposure time than others.

EtO sterilisation works by attaching to hydrogen molecules, which prevents necessary functions for sustaining life, disrupting DNA and protein reactions. With enough EtO present, these disruptions become fatal to microbial life.

Risks and Safety Measures

There is some degree of debate in the medical community about the widespread use of EtO, because direct exposure can have toxic effects on humans. Consequently, taking steps to protect personnel from coming into contact is essential. EtO is also flammable, so proper precautions must be put in place to avoid accidental ignition. However, with the right equipment and precautions, safety risks are minimal. Air scanning and EtO detection units can be used to prevent accidental overexposure. However, because of potential dangers, it has become more common for companies to contract out to specialists rather than perform the sterilisations themselves.

Continued Popularity

Nowadays, the Anprolene system uses a small EtO cartridge and a flexible chamber for sterilisation. This addresses concerns about environmental impact by using a small dose. It is a highly portable system, which makes it a popular choice among hospitals and clinics. It also has been a popular alternative for medical equipment manufacturers. Varying sizes of sterilisers mean it can handle small or large quantities. Despite the ongoing debate about safety risks as well as tightening restrictions in certain places, EtO continues to be a popular choice in North America, Europe and Asia because of its effectiveness.

image source

Editor's Note: Ashley Mooney is the Managing Director at Andersen Products, a company which has been providing Europe and the USA with Ethylene Oxide sterilisation solutions since the 1950s.

7 comments; last comment on 03/31/2014
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Fighting Fake Drugs

Posted October 10, 2012 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Google told me today (based on the search autofill) that the word 'counterfeit' has three popular associations: 'counterfeit money', 'counterfeit pens', and 'counterfeit gods'. While the last one is specifically the title of a book (Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods, a great read IMO), the other two are, as expected, related to money. But the crime of fake duplication is not exclusive to money; it pervades every industry in which money can be made. The pharmaceutical industry is no exception, as I was reminded about in a recent C&EN article by the American Chemical Society.

It was only this past May when the Food & Drug Administration released a warning to consumers about counterfeit versions of Adderall, an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug in short supply. The forgers were taking pain pills with no markings and of the wrong color, packaging them in blister packs (rather than bottles) with poor labels and misspellings, and selling them on the internet. Not surprisingly, these counterfeits were easy to spot (Frank William Abagnale, Jr. would be shaking his head).

(Credit: The American -->)

Not all counterfeits are so blatant. Many counterfeiters are true professionals and know how to make fake drugs (and more importantly their packaging) more convincing. Pharmaceutical companies have resorted to more sophisticated, harder-to-copy packaging with labels and identification technology designed to track their products. But like many types of criminals, counterfeiters have a way of getting around these barriers. True counterfeit identification needs to come largely from the chemistry.

The difference between a fake drug and a genuine drug is often subtle, involving minor variations in the concentration of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), formulations, or shape. Counterfeiters will do this to delay detection by simple analytical tests and initial reports from patients (who will experience at least some of the intended effects upon use). Typically, counterfeits that are very similar to the actual drug are the greatest financial threats because they can be sold in multiple iterations before detection. Those that are very chemically different post the greatest risks to people's health, and have also been said to be a leading cause for growing drug resistance among disease-causing parasites. In both extremes of counterfeiting, early detection solutions are thus extremely important.

Past methods of anticounterfeiting involved taking samples of suspicious drugs back to a lab for analysis. Unfortunately, the time this takes causes more problems than it solves. Testing for counterfeits at transit, distribution, and sale locations demands devices that are portable, rugged, and reliable, such as Thermo's handheld TruScan RM instruments and Bruker Optics' Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) analyzers. The TruScan allows drug substances to be identified through packaging, aiding in anticounterfeit efforts on multiple levels. The FTIR analyzer is used in mobile labs as an alternative to time consuming and work-intensive chromatography methods.

(<-- TruScan Analyzer. Credit: R&D Magazine)

Similar portable devices have recently been developed to make numerous different laboratory detection methods more efficient and available. For quick detective work, mid-IR, near-IR, and Raman spectroscopy are considered the most popular approaches. They are simple, fast, and selective, and can analyze solids with little or no sample preparation. The equipment itself is designed to give a pass/fail response (rather than data) when comparing the spectra of a sample with the known product. This provides quick answers on possible fakes, and saves the 'why' for later analysis.

Sometimes even this is not good enough, as many drug inspectors want to avoid opening shipping containers for fear of destroying valuable genuine products. For this, a group led by King's College is working on a quadruple resonance (QR) device that uses radio frequency methods in real time to detect APIs through layers of plastic, wood, glass, and cardboard. Through this method, inspectors can tell how much of the active ingredient is there and compare that to the form consistent with the manufacturer.

(Credit: Apothecurry -->)

In the end, counterfeit drug detection needs will vary based on the type of drug, the location, and the resources available. Certainly these portable technologies are a big step towards stopping counterfeit successes, helping ensure that people are getting the medications they need and legitimate pharmaceutical companies are making the profits they deserve.


Finding Fakes - C&EN

2 comments; last comment on 10/10/2012
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Long Lasting Lumber

Posted September 06, 2012 8:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Wood is perhaps the world's most familiar building material. It's been used for ages because it is readily available, easy to cut and shape, and is relatively strong (depending on the type of wood). Unfortunately it doesn't nearly have the strength or durability of metals, and has swelling, rotting, and flammability problems that other building materials do not. That's why, when cost is no obstacle, wood is not typically the first choice.

But a well understood chemical reaction called acetylation could help to change this and may solve many of wood's apparent shortcomings.

Most types of wood modifications are physical treatments that involve infusing materials into the wood or lacing the surfaces with coatings. Acetylation on the other hand actually changes the wood's chemical composition. In the acetylation process, acetic anhydride reacts with the hydroxyl groups on large molecules in the wood's plant cell walls (e.g. lignin and hemicellulose). The reaction replaces hydroxyl groups with acetyl groups and produces the by-product acetic acid. This same process has been used through the last century for making cellulose acetate (acetylated wood pulp) as material for many different products such as photographic film, wedding dress fabric, playing cards, and cigarette filters.

(Chemical outline of the acetylation process. Credit: C&EN)

The result of acetylation on wood is impressive. Most freshly-cut wood will lose about 10% of its volume when it is dried, and unfortunately it has the potential to regain this size if in contact with enough water. Through the acetylation process, acetyl groups actually spread out the cell wall and restore the wood to its original volume. Acetylated wood is as big as it's going to get; in other words, no swelling. Because of its resistance to moisture, the wood is also quite a bit stronger and more durable. This subsequently helps it resist termite infestation because of its increased hardness.

Strength, durability, decay resistance - all this is great, but what's the catch? Well, acetylated wood treatment has been around for a long time, but various technical and economic limitations have prevented it from taking off.

The technical difficulties of acetylation mainly arise when treating whole pieces of wood rather than fiber or pulp. For starters, there is little uniformity between different pieces of wood, since (thanks to the beauty of nature) every piece is unique. In addition, the surface area for treatment on a block of wood is also minimal, making deep penetration harder to accomplish. In addition to these problems, chemists and engineers have to deal with the acetic acid produced by the acetylation process, which if left untreated can corrode regular steel fasteners and make the wood smell like vinegar.

On the money side, acetylated wood is much more expensive than your typical lumber. For example, a 16-foot board of decking, pressure treated wood might go for ~$15, composite would be around $45, and Perennial Wood (Eastman Chemical Company's brand of acetylated wood) would top nearly $52. That's a pretty penny for quality, and the largely equivocal synthetic materials have proved dominant on the market so far.

However, in a future where consumers and architects begin to move away from non-renewable materials and carbon-intensive industries, acetylated wood may be able to compete. That's what Eastman Chemical Company and a few other firms are hoping for as they focus on particular niches including decking, windows, doors, and cladding. Certainly there is something to be said for using real wood, and it will be interesting to see how this initiative affects the future of building and construction.

(Eastman is focusing on outdoor furniture and decking for its Perennial Wood brand. Credit: Eastman -->)


Making Wood Last Forever With Acetylation - C&EN

7 comments; last comment on 09/12/2012
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