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Technology Transfer for Aroma Chemical Research

By: Rich Boden, senior research fellow, IFF
Posted: March 5, 2009

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Plants have evolved using enzymes as catalysts resulting in the large variety of chemicals found in nature; chemists have learned, with the help of powerful and relatively inexpensive computer technology, to understand the chemical behavior of these special reagents. Through the incorporation of computer modeling programs, computer controlled reactors and instrumentation, the next generation of aroma chemicals will be discovered, safely produced, and brought to market.

It is now commonplace to use computer programs to analyze the prodigious amount of data generated in typical catalyst studies. Reaction variables such as temperature, pressure, reagent flow rates and changes in the physical properties of the reaction mass are, with the aid of computers, correlated in real time along with spectral data obtained within the reaction vessel to provide insight into the reactivity of the catalyst. Computer controlled calorimetry (the measurement of heat generated by a chemical reaction) experiments provide process safety data as well as mechanistic information that allow the chemist to modify reaction conditions to obtain higher yields and to lower costs.

Introduction of the computer controlled microreactor, a workhorse in pharmaceutical research, will be the tool of choice for discovering, developing, and producing tomorrow’s aroma chemicals. Microreactors are reaction vessels that offer finer control of reaction conditions and variables. Unlike conventional reactors, microreactors possess a high surface-to-volume ratio, allowing for better heat dissipation that results in improved temperature control and safer processes. The reaction zone is relatively small and products are removed quickly, resulting in higher yields and greater product purity. Since there is less opportunity to create byproducts by overreaction, there are fewer impurities to contribute off notes to the odor profile. Microreactors are energy efficient tools that maximize chemical production and minimize the formation of waste products; they are potent research and production tools that play an integral role in designing sustainable chemistry.

While the central goals of effectiveness and cost-efficiency have not diminished in importance, the emerging trend of sustainability can be expected to have a growing impact on the discovery and synthesis of new aroma chemicals and processes for the foreseeable future.

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