September 18, 2012 by Editor
*Draft under discussion for finalization*
In 1999, Mr. Vinod Saraf, CMD of Vinati Organics Limited (VOL), approached Dr. Prashant Barve, Head, Process Development and Engineering Group at NCL to explore new opportunities in specialty chemical manufacture. Because of its numerous and diverse applications, ATBS was identified as one of the potential products. The challenge was to innovate a synthetic process that was commercially feasible and profitable. The NCL team not only successfully met this challenge but came up with a highly streamlined, continuous production method minimising the cost and the environmental impact. VOL is currently the largest manufacturer of ATBS worldwide. The NCL team has received 7 national awards to the day for their brilliant effort.
A media report in September 2008 informed its readers, “NCL process puts Indian company in unique club”. Mumbai-based Vinati Organics Ltd had become the first manufacturer of ATBS, a specialty monomer, in the country.
Acrylamido tertiary-butyl sulfonic acid (ATBS), also known as 2-acrylamido-2-methyl-1-propanesulfonic acid (AMPS®), is a specialty monomer used as co-monomer in numerous polymerization processes. It is used in the dye-pickup applications for synthetic fibres such as poly (acrylonitrile) fibers. It is also used in water treatment, construction chemicals, hydrogels for medical applications, personal care products, emulsion coatings, adhesives, and rheology modifiers. However, probably its most important application is in Enhanced Oil Recovery, where it is used in its highest possible purity grade. The technology to produce this speciality monomer was invented by Lubrizol more than 30 years ago. With their exceptionally high level of product purity, they were the global leader AMPS® production for a long time.
Vinati Organics Limited (VOL) was established in 1989 by Mr. Vinod Saraf, an entrepreneur with a background in finance but open enough to venture into speciality chemical manufacture. For a while after its inception, VOL was a single chemical producing manufacturer. VOL was producing Isobutyl benzene, for use in manufacture of Ibuprofen, with a technology they received from Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP), France. However, VOL’s CMD, Mr. Vinod Saraf, was looking to expand Vinati’s product list beyond Isobutyl benzene. In 1999, he approached Dr. Prashant Barve, Head, Process Development and Engineering Group at NCL to explore other feasible and profitable production opportunities for VOL.
Because of its numerous and diverse applications, AMPS® was identified as one of the potential products. If Dr. Barve’s team could innovate a novel process for production of AMPS® and if VOL could successfully commercialise it, Vinati Organics would become only the 3rd manufacturer worldwide of AMPS. However, the NCL-VOL team could not use the trade name ‘AMPS®’ for their new product because that was the registered trademark of Lubrizol. They, therefore, came up with the name ‘ATBS’ based on the other chemical name for the same molecule. It was mutually agreed between the NCL team and VOL to evaluate the feasibility of the process and produce a feasibility report for the same within following one year. Dr. Barve and his team found the manufacturing process to be moderately feasible and that there were not many takers for the product within the country. However, ATBS did have a global market.
In July 2000, the NCL team demonstrated the manufacture of ATBS at the scale of 1kg. Considering the costs of the raw materials involved and the cost at which the global competitors were selling ATBS at, the process was rejected by VOL as non-feasible. By November of that year, Dr. Barve’s team tuned up the process in such a way that the raw material cost drastically reduced and the project became viable for VOL to go ahead with. The team also completed bascic engineering activity along with the process demonstration to VOL team. Around November 2000, VOL contracted Dalal Engineering Ltd. to come up with the detailed engineering package for the design and production of a plant that would be able to produce ATBS at industrial scale. With valuable inputs from Dr. Barve’s team, the plant was ready by July 2002 and testing began in order to streamline the process further. In October 2002, the plan spread over 25 acres, built to international safety standard and equipped with remote operation technology, was commissioned at Lote, Maharashtra.
The plant is a flow reactor that manufactures ATBS in one continuous process from raw material stage to recovery and recycling of waste products to packaging of the finished product. NCL-VOL team has received much praise from their competitor Lubrizol for installing such a well-streamlined and compact plant. While Lubrizol is struggling with the recovery and recycling of acrylonitrile that has not been converted (85%), VOL is successfully utilising the recovery process invented by the NCL team. Due to their uniqueness, the plant and the recovery process have been patented by NCL. The monomers in the effluents from the process are polymerised and sold to the construction industry, thus minimising the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.
With funding from the Technology Development Board (TDB) and investment from Mr. Saraf himself, the manufacture started at 3 tonnes per day, in October 2002. However, first couple of months were full of difficulties and the NCL-VOL team learnt a lot about the production of ATBS during this time. By December 2002, the production had been streamlined and first batches of commercially manufactured ATBS were shipped to VOL’s clients globally.
It seemed, however, that the VOL’s rough ride wasn’t quite over. By early 2003, various clients from the EU started rejecting the ATBS shipped by Vinati Organics on the quality control (QC) bases. Since there were no global norms set for the acceptable quality of ATBS, VOL provided values for 18 parameters with their product, on basis of which, the quality of ATBS could be assessed. The quality analysis (QA) was carried out at NCL using HPLC, spectrophotometry, AAS etc. The clients in EU used ICP-MS for QA and their QC criteria were extremely stringent. The ppm level variations in the reported metal content in the product caused them to reject the product. The NCL-VOL team was back on the learning curve with respect to the QC expectations of their global clients. The learning process lasted till 2005, when a breakthrough occurred.
Only acceptable ATBS for enhanced oil recovery application was the one with polymer weight higher than 4,00,000 amu. The team discovered that the chain transfer agent used in the manufacturing process was causing the polymer to be of lower molecular weight. Once appropriate changes were made, the NCL-VOL team was able to produce the polymer of required molecular weight. This commercial breakthrough in 2005 cleared the path for Vinati Organics to manufacture enhanced oil recovery grade ATBS. There has been a steady progress in the ATBS plant capacity at VOL since then.
Producing 25,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) and employing 400 people, VOL has become the largest venture in speciality chemical manufacture in the Lote industrial area of Maharashtra state. In fact, it is now the largest manufacturer of ATBS in the world, followed by Lubrizol at 15,000 tpa. Vinati Organics has also established a plant of capacity 12,000 tpa for production of isobutylene onsite, thus adopting the ‘backward integration’ policy to make the manufacture more profitable. While NCL holds the US and worldwide patent for the manufacturing process, Vinati Organics Limited holds the commercial license for the manufacture. The team has received numerous national awards, including ICICI-NCL-RF Technology of the Year award, VASVIK award and ICC Acharya P. C. Ray Award for Development of Indigenous Technology. The funding loan received for the project was repaid to the Technology Development Board (TDB), a rare occurrence in the history of technology commercialisation in India.
1. Interview : Dr. Prashant Barve, Head, Process Development and Engineering Group, NCL
2. Vinati Organics Ltd. brochure
3. Media report : NCL process puts Indian company in unique club
4. Media report : Chemical Business, Sep 2008
5. Patentbuddy.com : US 6504050