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Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 1997 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award

BHC Company (now BASF Corporation)


BHC Company Ibuprofen Process


Innovation and Benefits: BHC Company developed an efficient method to make ibuprofen, a commonly used painkiller, using only three steps instead of six. BHC recovers and recycles the waste byproduct from the manufacturing process and has virtually eliminated large volumes of aqueous salt wastes. BASF Corporation, one of the BHC partners, uses this process in one of the largest ibuprofen production plants in the world.

Summary of Technology: BHC Company has developed a new synthetic process to manufacture ibuprofen, a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller marketed under brand names such as AdvilTM and MotrinTM. Commercialized since 1992 in BHC's 7.7-million-pound-per-year facility in Bishop, TX, the new process has been cited as an industry model of environmental excellence in chemical processing technology. For its innovation, BHC was the recipient of the Kirkpatrick Achievement Award for "outstanding advances in chemical engineering technology" in 1993.

The new technology involves only three catalytic steps with approximately 80 percent atom utilization (virtually 99 percent including the recovered byproduct acetic acid) and replaces technology with six stoichiometric steps and less than 40 percent atom utilization. The use of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride as both catalyst and solvent offers important advantages in reaction selectivity and waste reduction. As such, this chemistry is a model of source reduction, the method of waste minimization that tops EPA's waste management hierarchy. Virtually all starting materials are either converted to product or reclaimed byproduct or are completely recovered and recycled in the process. The generation of waste is practically eliminated.

The BHC ibuprofen process is an innovative, efficient technology that has revolutionized bulk pharmaceutical manufacturing. The process provides an elegant solution to a prevalent problem encountered in bulk pharmaceutical synthesis (i.e., how to avoid the large quantities of solvents and wastes associated with the traditional stoichiometric use of auxiliary chemicals for chemical conversions). Large volumes of aqueous wastes (salts) normally associated with such manufacturing are virtually eliminated. The anhydrous hydrogen fluoride catalyst/solvent is recovered and recycled with greater than 99.9 percent efficiency. No other solvent is needed in the process, simplifying product recovery and minimizing fugitive emissions. The nearly complete atom utilization of this streamlined process truly makes it a waste-minimizing, environmentally friendly technology.

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