Becco

I go back along way with Becco, they sponsored me with the first western New York Science Congress and two people I still remember were Dr’s Frank Greenspan and Edward Shanley who generously gave of their time to mentor me answering my many questions and engaged my curiosity into the mystique, of the world of hydrogen peroxide.

The idea that water with one more atom of oxygen appeared as this innocent looking water like liquid could give rise to nearly explosive decompositions and have the latent power to do the spectacular things it did never ceased to amaze and fascinate me. At that tender age of 15 my self and interested high school buddies, became a lifelong members of the hydrogen peroxide fan club.

As most folks are used to 3% drugstore H2O2 this was baby stuff for us, because we had to use highly concentrated H2O2 i.e.35% and higher!

Our first act was to decompose 35% H2O2 with potassium permanganate, an violent act, in the snow banks of Buffalo sending up clouds of steam and staining the snow a dark purple, the more H2O2 you poured on the more this violence persisted, this never ceased to thrill us.

When we got our hands on 50% H2O2, it was a magnitude more violent and sent up geysers of steam and spattered the snow even more. Then we learned that during the second world war the Nazis were running there V-2 rocket guidance systems with this system and we were finally encouraged to step up a rocket motor behind my dad’s garage with potassium permangante in one dropping funnel and 50% H2O2 in the other funnel and allow them to meet inside our crude rocket tube and the resulting noise and smoke (23,450 calories per mole) and our shenanigans brought the local police over to see what the hell was going on behind Hyman Pratter’s garage, our reaction was to climb the nearest trees and hide like monkeys from the lions, until the cops finally kicked in our system and left, by some miracle they never reported all of this to my dad we were probably 16 years old by then.

All kidding aside I made many trips to BECCO and they showed me their plant and spent time in their research laboratory learning this fascinating story.

I must at this point digress on the plant, from my impressions (see pictures) it was a long and narrow 4 story block building with no conventional windows all the light was from glass block windows totally sealed (to prevent dust and dirt from entering) and a low hum of electricity inside what the process was, at that time, was the electrolytic oxidation of potassium sulfate into potassium persulfate (ref) and he cold decomposition of persulfate into persulfuric acid and the reaction of persulfuric acid with water to form sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

The peroxide was distilled away, under vacuum, and the whole process recycled.

Incidentally the plant was located in an area of western New York known as Tonawanda (an Indian Name) next to the Huntley Station, an enormous steam/coal generating station on the upper Niagara River (for cooling water.

The reason for this location was, no accident, for to accomplish this oxidation of sulfate to persulfate required enormous amounts of electric energy to be exact for every pound of 35% peroxide produced required

Kilowatts

I have enclosed pictures and the story of this plant in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, authored by Shanley and Greenspan pp1536-43 (1947)

The most amazing facet of concentrated H2O2 was that it could be handled in only pure 99.6% aluminum drums and tank cars; and if you had ever saw these non spill drums and a these small tank cars on the railroad tracks it is truly a site to behold see enclosed.

When at the appropriate time they introduced me to 90% H2O2, I stood there as if I had seen the rarest compound on this planet, I was so in awe I was even afraid to touch it as if it would detonate.

They assured me this was an item of commerce and even gave me data sheets and a booklet, to calm me down. I learned quickly, when it came to chemistry and about a year later by some process I cannot explain, entered the magical kingdom of organic chemistry.

The advent of the commercialization of 90% H2O2 allowed BECCO to introduce peracetic Acid 40% into commerce in 1948 along with special containers opening up a new era of organic chemistry called epoxidation.

I really don’t known if they were the first to do so since Solvay and Dupont were always on their heels. There were bulletins after bulletins about 40% peracetic acid from disinfectants to plasticizers.

40% was manufactured from 90% H2O2 by allowing it to react with glacial acetic acid containing traces of sulfuric acid. The resulting equilibrium of peracetic acid, water, unreacted hydrogen peroxide, and sulfuric acid was so called 40% peracetic acid.

This opened the path to the era of epoxidation where millions and millions of pounds of such diverse products from epoxidized soybean oil to sophisticated fragrance compounds are manufactured. (Continue the story)