Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2008 Small Business Award
SiGNa Chemistry, Inc.
New Stabilized Alkali Metals for Safer, Sustainable Syntheses
Innovation and Benefits: Alkali metals, such as sodium and lithium, are powerful tools in synthetic chemistry because they are highly reactive. Their reactivity also makes them both flammable and explosive, however, unless they are handled very carefully. SiGNa Chemistry developed a way to stabilize these metals by encapsulating them within porous, sand-like powders, while maintaining their usefulness in synthetic reactions. The stabilized metals are much safer to store, transport, and handle. They may also be useful for removing sulfur from fuels, producing hydrogen, and remediating a variety of hazardous wastes.
Summary of Technology: Alkali metals have a strong propensity for donating electrons, which makes these metals especially reactive. That reactivity has enormous potential for speeding chemical reactions throughout science and industry, possibly including new pathways to clean energy and environmental remediation. Unfortunately, that same reactivity also makes them highly unstable and dangerous to store and handle. In addition, increased risk of supply-chain interruption and the expense of handling these metals have made them unattractive to the chemical industry. Industries from pharmaceutical to petroleum have developed alternative synthetic routes to avoid using alkali metals, but these alternates require additional reactants and reaction steps that lead to inefficient, wasteful manufacturing processes.
SiGNa Chemistry addresses these problems with its technology for nanoscale absorption of reactive alkali metals in porous metal oxides. These new materials are sand-like powders. SiGNa's materials eliminate the danger and associated costs of using reactive metals directly but retain the utility of the alkali metals. Far from their hazardous precursors, SiGNa's materials react controllably with predictable activation that can be adapted to a variety of industry needs. By enabling practical chemical shortcuts and continuous flow processes, the encapsulated alkali metals create efficiencies in storage, supply chain, manpower, and waste disposal.
For the pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and general synthesis industries, SiGNa's breakthrough eliminates the additional steps that these industries usually take to avoid using the alkali metals and produces the desired reaction in 80–90 percent less time. For the pharmaceutical industry in particular, the materials can accelerate drug discovery and manufacturing while bolstering worker safety.
Beyond greening conventional chemical syntheses, SiGNa's materials enable the development of entirely new areas of chemistry. In clean-energy applications, the company's stabilized alkali metals safely produce record levels of pure hydrogen gas for the nascent fuel cell sector. With yield levels that already exceed the Department of Energy's targets for 2015, SiGNa's materials constitute the most effective means for processing water into hydrogen. SiGNa's materials also allow alkali metals to be safely applied to environmental remediation of oil contamination and the destruction of PCBs and CFCs.
SiGNa's success in increasing process efficiencies, health and environmental safety, and entirely new chemical technologies has helped it attract more than 50 major global pharmaceutical, chemical, and energy companies as customers.