Microwave-assisted Cu-catalyzed Ullmann ether synthesis in a continuous-flow milli-plant

F. Benaskar, N.G. Patil, J. Meuldijk, L.A. Hulshof, V. Hessel, J.C. Schouten, V. Engels, A.E.H. Wheatley, E.V. Rebrov

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The combination of milli-scale processing and microwave heating has been investigated for the Cu-catalyzed Ullmann etherification in fine-chemical synthesis, providing improved catalytic activity and selective catalyst heating. Wall-coated and fixed-bed milli-reactors were designed and applied in the Cu-catalyzed Ullmann-type CO coupling of phenol and 4-chloropyridine. In a batch reactor the results show clearly increased yields for the microwave heated process at low microwave powers, whereas high powers and catalyst loadings reduced the benefits of microwave heating. Slightly higher yields were found in the Cu/ZnO wall-coated as compared to the Cu/TiO fixed-bed flow-reactor. The benefit here is that the reaction occurs at the surface of the metal nanoparticles confined within a support film making the nano-copper equally accessible. Catalyst deactivation was mainly caused by Cu oxidation and coke formation; however, at longer process times leaching played a significant role. Catalyst activity could partially be recovered by removal of deposited by-product by means of calcination. After 6h on-stream the reactor productivities were 28.3 and 55.1kgprod/(mR3h) for the fresh Cu/ZnO wall-coated and Cu/TiO fixed-bed reactor, respectively. Comparison of single- and multimode microwaves showed a threefold yield increase for single-mode microwaves. Control of nanoparticles size and loading allows to avoid high temperatures in a single-mode microwave field and provides a novel solution to a major problem for combining metal catalysis and microwave heating. Catalyst stability appeared to be more important and provided twofold yield increase for the CuZn/TiO catalyst as compared to the Cu/TiO catalyst due to stabilized copper by preferential oxidation of the zinc. For this catalyst a threefold yield increase was observed in single-mode microwaves which, to the best of our knowledge, led to a not yet reported productivity of 172kgprod/(mR3h) for the microwave and flow Ullmann CO coupling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-439
Number of pages14
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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