Acetonitrile is also known as nitrile methyl cyanide and cyanomethane. It is a colourless, transparent liquid at room temperature. It is highly volatile, with special smell like ether, and burns brightly. It is mutually soluble in water, methanol, carbon tetrachloride, methyl acetate, ethyl acetate, ethylene dichloride, and many other non-saturated hydrocarbon solvents. It is toxic and can be metabolized into hydrogen cyanide and thiocyanate. Acetonitrile is a good solvent with excellent performance and is an important organic intermediate. It is also widely used as a polar aprotic solvent. The biggest application of acetonitrile is as a solvent which can be used as the solvents for the synthesis of vitamin A, cortisone, carbon amine drugs and their intermediates solvent. It also used as an active medium solvent in the manufacture of vitamin B1 and amino acids. It can substitute chlorinated solvents as a vinyl coating, an extracting agent of fatty acid, a alcohol denaturant, the extracting agent of butadiene, and the solvent of acrylonitrile synthetic fibers. It also has a lot of applications in fabric dyeing, light industry, spice manufacturing, and photographic materials manufacturing.
There are many ways of making acetonitrile. Those major ways for industrial production include (1) acetate amination method, (2) acetylene amination method and (3) propylene ammoxidation by product method.
(1) Acetate amination method: This method uses acetate and ammonia as raw materials with reaction being performed at a temperature of 360-420 °C in the presence of aluminium oxide as the catalyst. This is a one-step synthesis method. The reaction mixture is further gone through water absorption and fine distillation to get the final product. Material consumption quantity: acetate (98%) 1763kg /t, ammonia (99.5%) 691kg/t.
(2) Acetylene amination method: This method uses ammonia and acetylene as the raw materials and the reaction is carried out at a temperature of 500-600 °C with aluminium oxide being the catalyst. It is again a one-step synthesis approach. Material consumption quantity: acetylene 10231 m3, ammonia (99.4%) 1007 kg/t.
(3) Propylene amination and oxidation by product method: This method uses propylene, ammonia, and air as the raw materials. It produces acrylonitrile with the catalyst while producing acetonitrile as by products. One ton of acrylonitrile can make 25-100kg by product of acetonitrile.
Chemical Industry: Used as solvent for extracting some organic chemicals.
Oil Industry: It is used as solvent for filtering out tar in the petroleum industry.