The manufacture of VCM, from either coal or natural gas, is an important intermediate step in the production of poly vinyl chloride (PVC)

Catalyst research

As our population continues to grow and urbanisation increases, demand for key chemical intermediates which are used as building blocks to make everyday items is set to rise. In tandem, increased emphasis on environmental responsibility is prompting legislation to control and reduce emissions in some chemical manufacturing processes.

An example of this is in the manufacture of a chemical called vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). The manufacture of VCM, from either coal or natural gas, is an important intermediate step in the production of poly vinyl chloride (PVC). In China, 80% of PVC production utilises the coal based route and employs a mercury containing catalyst. Coal based VCM production using these catalysts is used outside China too.

After 2017 new VCM plants will not be allowed to use a mercury catalyst. After 2022 all plants will have to switch to mercury-free catalystsIn October 2013, 90 countries signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a binding international treaty which aims to control and reduce emissions of toxic mercury compounds. The treaty contains a specific clause relating to VCM which states that after 2017 new VCM plants will not be allowed to use a mercury catalyst and that after 2022 all VCM plants have to switch to a mercury-free catalyst, providing there is an economically available alternative.

An economically viable solution

Johnson Matthey has successfully developed a catalyst which does not contain any mercury for the manufacture of VCM. The catalyst, which includes gold in its formulation, is now ready for commercialisation. It is economically viable and can be used as a direct replacement for catalysts in existing VCM reactors.

Our new catalyst should allow customers to meet the forthcoming legislation and is a further addition to Johnson Matthey's portfolio of sustainable technologies.