Leap forward in Fluorochemical Production

Leap forward in Fluorochemical Production

In a world where scientific advancements are reshaping industries, a groundbreaking achievement has emerged from the laboratories of Oxford University.

Chemists have unveiled a method that promises to revolutionize the production of fluorochemicals and address significant environmental and safety concerns associated with traditional methods.

While perhaps not a household name, Fluorochemicals play a pivotal role in our daily lives. These chemicals are integral to many applications, from the lithium-ion batteries that power our smartphones and electric vehicles to essential pharmaceuticals, polymers, and agrochemicals. With a global market that soared to a staggering $21.4 billion in 2018, the demand for fluorochemicals is massive. Yet, the production of these vital chemicals has long been marred by environmental and safety challenges.

The Problem with Traditional Methods

For decades, the production of fluorochemicals has relied on a process that, while effective, poses significant challenges both to human safety and the environment. At the heart of this process is hydrogen fluoride (HF) gas, which can be hazardous.

Hydrogen fluoride gas, known for its toxic and corrosive nature, has been the primary agent in generating fluorochemicals. Derived from a reaction between a crystalline mineral known as fluorspar (CaF2) and sulfuric acid, this gas is subjected to harsh conditions to produce the desired fluorochemicals, but this method comes at a price.

Despite rigorous safety regulations in place, the industry has witnessed HF spills multiple times over the past decades. The aftermath of these spills? Fatal accidents and severe environmental repercussions have raised alarms about the sustainability and safety of this method.

The reliance on HF continues beyond safety concerns. The process is energy-intensive, further amplifying its environmental footprint. In an age where industries are being challenged to reduce their carbon emissions and adopt greener practices, the traditional method of fluorochemical production stands at odds with global sustainability goals.

What if there was a way to bypass the use of this hazardous gas entirely? A method that addresses the safety concerns and paves the way for a more environmentally friendly approach? Enter the team at Oxford University, who have looked to nature for inspiration and devised an innovative solution.

An Innovative Solution to Fluorochemical Production

Nature, with its myriad of processes and systems, has often served as an inspiration for scientific innovations. The Oxford chemists turned to the natural world, specifically the biomineralization process that gives rise to teeth and bones.

Traditionally, the production of HF involved reacting fluorspar (CaF2) with sulfuric acid under extreme conditions. However, the Oxford-led team envisioned a different approach. Instead of producing HF, why not create fluorochemicals directly from CaF2?

This idea, while simple, required a deep understanding of chemistry and a touch of chemical creativity. The team’s method involved activating solid-state CaF2 through a biomineralization-inspired process. This process mimics the formation of calcium phosphate minerals in teeth and bones. By grinding CaF2 with powdered potassium phosphate salt in a ball-mill machine, the team embarked on a mechanochemical process reminiscent of the age-old practice of grinding spices with a pestle and mortar.

The outcome? A powdered product named “Fluoromix.” This innovative concoction enabled the synthesis of over 50 different fluorochemicals directly from CaF2, boasting an impressive yield of up to 98%.

This novel method has the potential to overhaul the current supply chain, reducing energy consumption and, in turn, diminishing the industry’s carbon footprint.

Benefits and Impacts

The ripple effects from the new method could be vast, promising to usher in a new era for the fluorochemical industry.

1. Environmental Benefits: The significant reduction in environmental impact is at the forefront of the advantages. By eliminating the need for hazardous HF gas, the method sidesteps the ecological risks associated with its spills and leaks. Moreover, the direct use of CaF2 for fluorination reduces the energy-intensive processes traditionally associated with fluorochemical production. This not only means a decrease in energy consumption but also a substantial reduction in carbon emissions.

2. Safety Benefits: The safety implications cannot be overstated. By bypassing the production of toxic HF gas, the industry can mitigate the risks of fatal accidents and health hazards to workers. This ensures a safer working environment and reduces the potential legal and financial repercussions of accidents.

3. Economic Implications: The new method can streamline the fluorochemical supply chain. Industries can expect reduced production costs with a more direct and efficient production process. Furthermore, the method’s potential to be implemented universally in academia and the broader industry means that it can minimize disruptions caused by the fragility of global supply chains, ensuring a more stable and reliable production line.

4. Broader Industry Impacts: The ripple effects of this innovation extend beyond just the fluorochemical industry. The method’s potential applications span from polymers and agrochemicals to pharmaceuticals and lithium-ion batteries.

The team behind the new method of Fluorochemical Production

The Oxford chemists, while instrumental in this breakthrough, were part of a larger collaborative effort that spanned academic institutions and borders.

Professor Véronique Gouverneur FRS from Oxford’s Department of Chemistry headed the project. She emphasized the importance of transitioning to sustainable methods for chemical manufacturing, highlighting the potential of the Oxford-developed process to be a game-changer in academia and the industry.

Calum Patel, a co-lead author from Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, shed light on the intricacies of the method. He highlighted the excitement surrounding the mechanochemical activation of CaF2 with a phosphate salt, describing it as a simple yet highly effective solution to a complex problem.

The Oxford chemists collaborated with University College London and Colorado State University experts, pooling knowledge and expertise.

Recognizing the potential of their discovery, an Oxford spin-out named FluoRok was created to commercialize the work.

In the ever-evolving landscape of scientific research, discoveries that promise to reshape industries and redefine norms are rare gems. The breakthrough achieved by the Oxford chemists, in collaboration with their international counterparts, is one such gem.

By introducing a method that not only addresses the pressing concerns of safety and environmental impact but also offers economic and broader industry benefits, they have set the stage for a transformative shift in the fluorochemical industry.

While this breakthrough marks a significant milestone, it also paves the way for further research, refinements, and discoveries. The future of the fluorochemical industry, and indeed the broader scientific community, looks brighter and more promising than ever.


  • Oxford University chemists, in collaboration with international teams, have developed a groundbreaking method for producing fluorochemicals.
  • The new method bypasses the hazardous hydrogen fluoride gas, addressing significant safety and environmental concerns.
  • Inspired by the natural biomineralization process, the method uses solid-state CaF2, reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.
  • This innovation has the potential to revolutionize the fluorochemical industry, with implications for polymers, pharmaceuticals, and lithium-ion batteries.

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