Terephthalic Acid Synthesis in High-Temperature Water

EPA Grant Number: U916149
Title: Terephthalic Acid Synthesis in High-Temperature Water
Investigators: Dunn, Jennifer M.B.
Institution: University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through January 1, 2006
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2003) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Engineering and Environmental Chemistry , Fellowship - Chemical Engineering


The objective of this research project is to characterize the partial oxidation of alkyl aromatics in high-temperature water (HTW) and evaluate the potential of this environmentally benign medium to replace the acetic acid solvent typically used in industrial processes for these chemical transformations. An example of a relevant commercial process is the partial oxidation of p-xylene in acetic acid to produce terephthalic acid, the monomer that is a precursor for polyethylene terephthalate.


This research project focuses on how factors such as reaction temperature, catalyst identity, catalyst concentration, and reactant concentrations affect the yield of terephthalic acid, conversion of p-xylene, and product distribution in HTW and supercritical water (SCW). Reactions are conducted in a batch reactor; liquid and gaseous products are collected during the reaction. The liquid phase is analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography, and the gaseous phase is analyzed by gas chromatography. Furthermore, an economic and environmental assessment of an HTW-based terephthalic acid synthesis process is conducted. The HTW-based process is more environmentally benign than, and equally capital intensive as, the current acetic acid-based process. The partial oxidation of other alkyl aromatics as well as more extensive analysis of the partial oxidation of p-xylene will be studied through additional experimental work to complete this research.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, high-temperature water, HTW, supercritical water, SCW, alkyl aromatics, terephthalic acid synthesis, reaction temperature.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2003
  • 2004
  • Final