Acetonitrile is essential to a lot of chemical analysis – HPLC, or high-performance liquid chromatography, is a workhorse technique for just about anyone who wants to purify on a smallish scale, or see how pure their stuff is. This means pharmaceuticals, prepared foods, agribusiness, fine chemicals, and on and on. We use lots of acetonitrile.
From a recent C&E News:
Acetonitrile is a coproduct of the process used to make acrylonitrile, a building block for acrylic fibers and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resins. An acrylonitrile plant yields 2 to 4 L of acetonitrile for every 100 L of acrylonitrile produced. Only one U.S. producer, Ineos, bothers to extract it for sale to the merchant market, which it does at plants in Green Lake, Texas, and Lima, Ohio. Most acrylonitrile producers incinerate the coproduct as fuel.
And it is acetonitrile’s status as a minor coproduct that has led to its present scarcity. Amin Dhalla, business director for Ineos Nitriles, says acrylonitrile production has been ebbing. Demand for ABS resins, used in cars, electronic housings, and small appliances, is slumping around the world because of the global economic slowdown. The acrylic fiber market is also on the decline, losing market share to polyester fibers. Operating rates at acrylonitrile plants are less than 60% globally.
So we find yet another bizzare unintended consequence of the current financial situation. (Slightly) oversimplified:
- Speculator buys house(s).
- Bank securitizes loan.
- Housing prices fall.
- Speculator loses shirt.
- Housing/CDO/CDS whirlwind.
- Carpet demand decreases.
- Acrylonitrile production falls.
- Acetonitrile production falls.
- It gets harder to purify and analyze chemicals, synthesize DNA, and perform loads of other chemical processes.
This is like the grocery store being out of milk, and being told that you might be able to get a half-gallon once in awhile until next summer, but don’t hold your breath. Below, find some information from chemical suppliers and gossip about the situation.