Later this year, the country’s first indigenous plant to make an important chemical compound called ‘hydrazine hydrate’ (HH) will become commercially operational through the Gujarat Alkalies & Chemicals Limited (GACL) in Vadodara. This chemical, which has multifarious use in pharmaceuticals, polymer, agro chemical industry and others, is currently being imported in large quantities, and the city-based CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) has played a critical role in the development of the cost-effective ‘HH’ technology through a ‘peroxide-ketazine’ route reducing effluent discharge.
“The process is environmentally friendly, as all the raw materials are recovered and reused without loss in yield and conversion making it very viable”, says IICT former chief scientist K. Ravindranath. For him and the ‘HH’ project team of more than a dozen scientists, it has been more than a decade of painstaking research, spending hours in the laboratory to get the process right.
“We have nurtured this project like a child from 2009 and it has been a fulfilling journey with lots of challenges at every stage from the lab scale to the pilot scale — 10 grams to 100 grams, 5 kg to 10,000 tonnes, as we have to be very careful with the commercial scale-up design,” he explained.
IICT directors from J.S. Yadav, M. Lakshmi Kantham and S. Chandrasekhar (now Secretary of department of Science & Technology) have been instrumental in pushing the research process through its ebbs and flows. The country imports about 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes every year from France, the United States and South Korea, and as technology transfer was not happening, it was decided to opt for indigenous technology.
It was in 2015-16 that the ‘pilot scale’ production began and once it was successful, the plan was to complete the plant for full scale production but the COVID pandemic led to delays, pushing the completion to this year-end.
“About 90% of the plant construction is done and quality lab has been established, so it is ready to take off,” says Mr. Ravindranath. The upcoming 10,000 TPA (tonnes per annum) GACL plant is expected to not only meet the domestic demand of HH, but could also earn foreign exchange once production and exports pick up, scientists add.
Colourless liquid for drugs, rocket fuel, pesticides
Hydrazine hydrate (HH) is a colourless, fuming, and oily liquid used as a reducing agent, an oxygen scavenger in the treatment of boiler water, and raw material for polymer industry as foaming agents. Hence, it is a key chemical in various processes.
In its purest form, HH is the most favoured rocket fuel and as a chemical used to manufacture pesticides. The chemical and its derivatives are also used in the manufacture of active ingredients for anti-cancer drugs, antidepressants, antifungal drugs, diuretics, anti-allergic, anti-Parkinson, anti-haemorrhagic, anti-tuberculosis, antiviral, and anti-migraine drugs. HH is also widely used in waste-water treatment industry and finds an increasing application as fuel in eco-friendly fuel cells, according to IICT scientist