Green Solvent Design

TMO: Developing a Greener Alternative to Toluene

The Problem:

A leading adhesive film manufacturer faced a significant challenge in reducing the environmental impact of their production process. The polymerisation method applied during manufacturing consumed large volumes of toluene, an effective but toxic solvent which emits hazardous fumes on the production line. Prolonged exposure to toluene can cause serious health issues including kidney, liver and nerve damage.

Seeking a safer and greener alternative, the company required a solution that not only met the criteria necessary for its production process, such as melting and boiling point, but also had lower flammability properties. 

Our Solution:

Addible's co-founder Fergal Byrne, working in conjunction with the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, took on the task. He began by studying the physical and solubility properties of toluene to gain a comprehensive understanding of its effectiveness. Next he conducted a study of other chemical structures resembling toluene, with the aim of identifying potential alternatives that could meet the necessary criteria.

A family of molecules similar to toluene emerged as promising candidates, but they possessed a significant drawback - they were all highly explosive. Fergal examined the characteristics behind these explosive properties and developed a restructured molecule, designed to fulfill all the criteria without the associated toxicity or combustibility. Through rigorous property testing, this innovative solution - tetramethyloxolane (TMO) - showcased the desired boiling and melting points, making it an ideal candidate for adhesive film manufacturing.

The new solvent could be derived from bio-based materials and effectively scaled up for production. In-vitro toxicity testing on a range of endpoints suggested no obvious carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or skin sensitising properties.

This safer and greener alternative to toluene not only met the stringent criteria set by the manufacturer but also offered a sustainable and eco-friendly solution for their adhesive film production needs.

The Future:

TMO is a versatile green solvent that has broad applications across various industries, unlocking a world of possibilities beyond adhesives.

The development of TMO was a key focus of ReSolve, a major EU project focussed on finding greener alternatives to fossil-based solvents that are classed as 'very high concern'. During the evaluation of TMO, senior external reviewers acknowledged its remarkable potential, emphasising that the outcomes would create a strong and significant impact within the chemical industries.

Their comments underscored the significance and far-reaching implications of our breakthrough solution, and we continue to work on its development and scalability for use in a variety of applications.