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Molecular PO factories
Catalytic preparation of polyolefins (PO) is a major process in chemical industry. About 100 million tons of polyethene is produced each year, making it the most used plastic in the world. Polyolefins are prepared in a “molecular PO factory”, consisting of a transition metal catalyst complex together with an activator, often anchored on a heterogeneous, nano-structures silica support.
Methylaluminoxane (MAO) is a key activator for a large section of the industrial production of polyolefins. Despite many efforts, little is known either about the details of MAO’s molecular structure or about the quantitative relationships between the MAO structure and its activating efficiency in the PO production process. This lack of information and optimisation translates into a major cost factor which prevents a broader industrial application of MAO. An in-depth understanding of the nano-structure and functions of MAO would allow more efficient use of MAO and would represent a stepchange in a number of important performance parameters such as application range, production costs, and environmental risks.