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White Yeti
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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 11:22
Expensive chemicals


Hello everyone,

I had trouble finding a category for this one, so I hope I chose correctly.

This question has been nagging me for a very long time and I can't seem to find a straight answer.

Is there a legal chemical the average Joe can make (or extract) that is highly sought after in the chemical industry and that does not require expensive machinery to be made?

I don't think there are many answers to this, because when a chemical in expensive, it is either difficult to manufacture, illegal or the precursors themselves are expensive.

I found some chemicals that could be made in a small mediocre lab with few chemicals that satisfy the requirements listed above. One of these chemicals is 1,2 ethane dithiol, where the profit margin can be over 100% when starting with ethylene glycol and H2S. Iron pentacarbonyl is another one, but the problem is that not many people would be willing to buy it and shipping costs would also be very high.

Any ideas?
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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 12:22


look into prospecting and panning for gold :D



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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 12:23


Just arguing from simple economics, I'd say no. Things that are easily made are cheap as a direct consequence. This is not to say that there might not be niches someone could exploit, but I think you would be looking at one of several types of situations:

- something that's heavily regulated (maybe toxic) but easy to make; maybe you would be able to make a few bucks due to lack of compliance costs before the EPA or whoever caught up with you.
- something that's really toxic, so that industry has a lot of costs associated with safety; maybe you would be able to make a few bucks before you had an unpleasant accident (carbonyl compounds seem to fall in this category)
- something where the market is really thin, due to lack of widespread demand. This might be the best bet, but of course you wouldn't sell much, and I expect that most people looking for an obscure chemical compound would want the assurance that comes with ordering from a major supplier.
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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 12:43


Quote: Originally posted by bbartlog  
I expect that most people looking for an obscure chemical compound would want the assurance that comes with ordering from a major supplier.


this.

Custom synthesis has a market, but you have to be very skilled at what you do. I know guys who do just this sort of work. What they do COULD be done in my basement, most of the time. You will have to find a way to do routine chemical analysis, though. Also, you want to buy stuff from chemical supply houses.
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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 12:44


I agree it is a very interesting subject. You'd probably do better making chemicals that are commonly desired but only possible to acquire from a large chemical supplier. Trying to market things to people/organisations who have accounts with the big corporate suppliers would likely be impossible. There must be a substantial number of people out there who can't/won't buy from the big suppliers. I'm sure they'd be willing to pay a premium. You might have trouble competing with Chinese suppliers though... Shipping might also be a big problem.

If you enjoyed it enough, the pay wouldn't have to be that great to make it worthwhile. Trying to support yourself (especially living somewhere expensive) doing it would be very tough though.

[Edited on 13-11-2011 by 497]




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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 13:04


Thanks for the feedback!
I know this is a controversial subject, I was prepared for the worst. Some chemicals step over from the legal side of things, into the black market.

One thing that I investigated a while ago was the possibility of extracting and selling essential oils from flowers, leaves and bark. A still is not difficult to construct and the oils themselves are quite expensive. But the profit margin is very small and it's only profitable when performed on a large scale.

One extract that would be pretty expensive would be sassafras extract. But there again, that would be crossing the line between the legal and the illegal -.-
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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 13:32


No, there is no easy-to-make chemical with high profit margins demanded in large quantity by industry. If you want to legally make money from independent chemical synthesis it is going to require chasing lots of smaller opportunities and will probably be very labor-intensive. I suggest reading Excuse Me Sir, Would You Like to Buy a Kilo of Isopropyl Bromide? to see how this worked 60 years ago. Like Mr. Gergel, you would need contacts with initial customers in industry or academia in addition to laboratory skills and hard work to break in to the business of supplying chemicals. Nobody is going to just order from your website if you have no reputation or word-of-mouth support.

If you live in an area that is geographically remote from major chemical suppliers, you may be able to find a niche in making and supplying certain useful chemicals that are difficult, expensive, or slow to ship. Our own member Leonid Lerner has written Small-Scale Synthesis of Laboratory Reagents with Reaction Modeling with an eye to these geographically constrained situations. You could do worse than to apply his instructions and supply the products.

New reagents are periodically introduced to the laboratory through journal publications and it is a while before any commercial supplier adds the reagent to their product line. You might keep an eye on journals and watch for any reagents that are popular enough to be cited repeatedly, stable enough to store, yet not currently available from major vendors.

Finally, you might look at the rare chemicals available through Pfaltz & Bauer or the Sigma-Aldrich Rare Chemical Library to get an idea of the wide variety of materials that people will pay for at least on occasion. But these chemicals are practically by definition ones that have no well-established use; it would be folly to make them now and hope that customers appear later.

I will repeat: in all of these situations, the hardest part initially will be in getting your first customer and establishing a good reputation. That's what distinguishes a viable business from puttering around for your own enjoyment.




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[*] posted on 13-11-2011 at 15:04


Quote:
sassafras extract. But there again, that would be crossing the line between the legal and the illegal -.-


It's not illegal to sell sassafras oil (in the US). There are reporting requirements for larger quantities, though, and it wouldn't surprise me if someone who sold smaller quantities still got some attention from the authorities.
The other thing is that it's probably a pain in the ass. I have a dozen wooded acres east of my house where sassafras grows in abundance (mixed with various species of oak, chokecherry, beech, sycamore, and ash), and I've considered digging some roots and steam distilling them. However, the ground is mostly glacial till (gravelly and hard to dig), the roots would have to be dried and then finely divided somehow (turned to sawdust I guess), and then steam distillation would have to be done. There are other extractions I'd like to succeed with first (gallic acid from sumac and salicin from black willow) that are less labor-intensive.
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[*] posted on 14-11-2011 at 00:34


The only thing which I can imagine which might make a small profit is making much wanted chemicals which are hard to obtain in the area where you live. Think of stuff like making KClO3 from KCl, making Br2 from NaBr, making KClO4 from KCl, I2 from KI, KIO3 from KI, etc. Such chemicals can be made at home and only require basic equipment and precursors. In certain places, where oxidizers and halogens are hard to obtain there might be people willing to pay a few bucks for 100 gram or so and then it might give you a small profit. Maybe enough to support your hobby, but not enough to have a living from.

Where I live, this is not an option. Stuff like KClO3, KClO4 and halogens can be purchased over here without too much hassle. The only difficult one is Br2.




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[*] posted on 14-11-2011 at 08:30


Palladium catalysts are expensive as hell and sell in a few gram quantities.

Just buy some palladium metal for market value, then dissolve in aqua regia. You can boil it down with extra HCl to make PdCl2. Very easy! Then sell for 4x the price of the metal

There are many different palladium catalysts and if you make them in good quality you will get loyal customers. I read on a blog a long time ago that someone was complaining a catalyst from Sigma Aldrich being shit. I think its Tetrakis(triphenylphosphine)palladium(0)




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[*] posted on 14-11-2011 at 09:11


There are some high-value, easily synthesized compounds in the organic world, but they are also low volume. Making a wide variety of useful synthetic intermediates having the same functional group - for example, heteroaromatic boronic acids with various substituents - can get you some interest from people interested in synthesizing libraries of compounds. These typically sell on the order of $50+/10 mg of material, delivered preweighed. You might also pick up some other useful compounds by watching the chemical literature - you will often find a paper saying that a new organic ligand makes some reaction work better, and the ligand is only a couple of steps to synthesize - somebody somewhere is probably interested in that reaction and would try the new catalyst if it was commercially available, but might not be willing to make his own. Also by following the biomedical literature - there are frequent reports of a "new class of inhibitors" of some enzyme or another, frequently characterized by one or two rather easy to synthesize compounds, that other research groups might be interested in testing in their own assays.

[Edited on 14-11-2011 by fledarmus]
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[*] posted on 14-11-2011 at 09:29


You can make buckyballs by passing an electric arc between 2 graphite electrodes in an inert atmosphere. You make a right old mess of sooty carbon, extract that with benzene and filter off the inert carbon to leave a purple solution of mostly C60 and C72 (I think, I'd have to go and dig out my old undergrad notes to check on this) and tiny amounts of higher fullerenes.

The hard part is purifying them, but it can be done with selective complexing reactions with different sized crown ethers. I'm sure there are other methods, I'm just not aware of them.

Just checked Sigma, C60 goes for £275/g

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[*] posted on 14-11-2011 at 16:07


Quote: Originally posted by fledarmus  
There are some high-value, easily synthesized compounds in the organic world, but they are also low volume. Making a wide variety of useful synthetic intermediates having the same functional group - for example, heteroaromatic boronic acids with various substituents - can get you some interest from people interested in synthesizing libraries of compounds. These typically sell on the order of $50+/10 mg of material, delivered preweighed. You might also pick up some other useful compounds by watching the chemical literature - you will often find a paper saying that a new organic ligand makes some reaction work better, and the ligand is only a couple of steps to synthesize - somebody somewhere is probably interested in that reaction and would try the new catalyst if it was commercially available, but might not be willing to make his own. Also by following the biomedical literature - there are frequent reports of a "new class of inhibitors" of some enzyme or another, frequently characterized by one or two rather easy to synthesize compounds, that other research groups might be interested in testing in their own assays.

[Edited on 14-11-2011 by fledarmus]


too true. Good ideas may be skipped if a compound is unavailable, they absolutely don't want to spend two weeks synthesizing some ligand that MIGHT work, but would easily fork out 100 bucks for a small amount.

Furthermore, hmmm... the boronic acid angle is a good one, coupling reactions and all that. Same then with bromine on the right carbon. Perhaps organic semiconductor precursors. 3-hexylthiophene is expensive and useful yet atrociously stinky to make... Dess Martin reagent is good stuff that goes for a premium. Nickel(pdddf) catalysts.

[Edited on 15-11-2011 by Cloner]
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[*] posted on 22-11-2011 at 03:59


given i'll never get around to making it and selling it you'll find innumerable customers for

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_mercaptan

if you can design a synth for the enantiomer required as well as a preseverative.




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[*] posted on 22-11-2011 at 04:25


why not find/invent a way to produce a difficult to manufacture expensive compound :)

then you can undercut the market and move some product.

I loved "excuse me sir...... bromide" Evan though it didn't end particularly well i actually found it quite inspiring in an odd way :)

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[*] posted on 22-11-2011 at 09:45


What Cloner and fledarmus describe is true. You can easily make compounds that sell for > 10 k$/kg by just repeating prior art syntheses without any investment in research. This is what many Chinese companies currently do, but there is always space for others. What you need to do, is follow which active pharmaceutical ingredients are currently undergoing clinical testing phases and prepare the crucial intermediates according to the literature. If you sell them for research (kg amounts) you can do so even if they are specifically claimed in the patents. However, you really need to be fast. Some generic pharma companies start buying the intermediates already before the clinical phase of the originators are concluded. If you are the first on the market, you can sell for a profit margin of over a thousand %, then in a matter of a year the prices drop rapidly at an incredible rate (when the Chinese join the party).

Once you select a suitable target, you need to check the literature if its synthesis is suitable to your skills and, most importantly, check if it is already commercially available (SciFinder, ChemExper, eMolecules, Alibaba, etc.). If nobody is offering it, take your chance, invest in the chemicals, synthesize it and put the offer on all the databases for commercial sources. For the beginning, you might want to do something that does not involve a lot of investment. You can first do a small amount and offer that as a bait and contract for a larger scale on demand. You will need to contract some lab to do the NMR, HPLC and assay analyses for you.




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[*] posted on 22-11-2011 at 16:02


I found another compound that might be expensive and easy to synthesise. I just found it and wanted to throw the name out there. I didn't research profit margins enough to claim that the synthesis would turn up any significant profits, but I thought I'd throw it out to the community:

Dibenzo-18-crown-6 can be synthesised from catechol and bis(chloroethyl)ether in the presence of a strong base and a catalyst. The "achilles heel" in this synthesis would be to find a cheap source of bis(chloroethyl)ether (the compound is pretty expensive in Alfa Aesar's selection ~$25 for 50g). However, I'm sure it can be easily synthesised from common lab chemicals.

Let me know what you think.




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[*] posted on 22-11-2011 at 16:27


Quote: Originally posted by Panache  
given i'll never get around to making it and selling it you'll find innumerable customers for

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_mercaptan

if you can design a synth for the enantiomer required as well as a preseverative.


There could be an easy way to make grapefruit mercaptan... You could buy terpineol (500g for 60 bucks) and bubble H2S through it in the presence of a catalyst. Organic chemistry is not my thing so I don't know what kind of catalyst is needed to replace an alcohol group with a thiol group. I've never experimented with thiols :\ Does anyone have experience in making thiols?




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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 04:16


Quote: Originally posted by White Yeti  
Quote: Originally posted by Panache  
given i'll never get around to making it and selling it you'll find innumerable customers for

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_mercaptan

if you can design a synth for the enantiomer required as well as a preseverative.


There could be an easy way to make grapefruit mercaptan... You could buy terpineol (500g for 60 bucks) and bubble H2S through it in the presence of a catalyst. Organic chemistry is not my thing so I don't know what kind of catalyst is needed to replace an alcohol group with a thiol group. I've never experimented with thiols :\ Does anyone have experience in making thiols?


You are not going to do it like that.
The first challenge is to convert the alcohol in to something that will leave easily eg tosylate.
Then you want to react it with something like thiourea and hydrolyse the resulting salt to form the thiol.
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 04:35


Quote: Originally posted by White Yeti  
Quote: Originally posted by Panache  
given i'll never get around to making it and selling it you'll find innumerable customers for

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_mercaptan

if you can design a synth for the enantiomer required as well as a preseverative.


There could be an easy way to make grapefruit mercaptan... You could buy terpineol (500g for 60 bucks) and bubble H2S through it in the presence of a catalyst. Organic chemistry is not my thing so I don't know what kind of catalyst is needed to replace an alcohol group with a thiol group. I've never experimented with thiols :\ Does anyone have experience in making thiols?


There is already a Japanese patent (or at least application, I'm not sure exactly how to read Japanese patents) covering exactly that. Unfortunately I can't read the Japanese language either, so I don't know the details. JP 5271180

H2S is bubbled through an alpha-terpineol solution containing dilute sulfuric acid for 80-100 hours.
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 05:12


One of the problems with patents is that some are absolutely kosher, follow the instructions and you end up with product, others miss out vital information and some are just blue sky or even worse wishful thinking.

[Edited on 23-11-2011 by ScienceSquirrel]
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 08:12


Well it is a tertiary alcohol so it can do SN1 reactions easily. The -OH2+ group is also a decent leaving group, hence the H2SO4. I don't know how sulfides react with SN1 though.

So it sounds very simple and easy. Also very smelly

I ate an Asian candy once that tasted like sulfur. Maybe that was it?
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 08:22


Precious metal iodides. Gold iodide sells for almost 200$/g
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 08:29


Quote: Originally posted by mr.crow  
Well it is a tertiary alcohol so it can do SN1 reactions easily. The -OH2+ group is also a decent leaving group, hence the H2SO4. I don't know how sulfides react with SN1 though.

So it sounds very simple and easy. Also very smelly

I ate an Asian candy once that tasted like sulfur. Maybe that was it?


I won't say that will not work but it seems a bit ropey to me.
The large amounts of hydrogen suphide would have to be captured and recycled or neutralised to make it practical though.
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[*] posted on 23-11-2011 at 09:26


White Yeti, you miss the whole point of a small one-man chemical enterprise. You can not sell compounds that are already commercially available. Why on earth would anybody buy from you if they can buy from the regular reliable sources with certified products? No competitive price will ever change this.
The way small businesses do it, is like I described it above. You find a highly desirable starting material for a new drug that is not yet commercially available, make it and sell it. Once the originators in the pharma industry get a drug approved, then all the generic competition starts with the synthesis and process research aimed at patenting independent synthetic routes. For this work they need also the same starting materials the originator used and they don't mind the cost as time is money for them. What some smarter companies do, is to offer obvious alternative starting materials for such drugs and sell them for an incredible profit margin (obviously, everybody wants them so you can set the price at any level). This business can last up to one or two years before it dies out from competition lowering the prices.
This is only the most profitable chemical business branch, but similar businesses can be do also for chiral ligands or other expensive and exclusive compounds.
Quote: Originally posted by ScienceSquirrel  
I won't say that will not work but it seems a bit ropey to me.

The SN1 alkylation of H2S is a known reaction and highly efficient, but there could be selectivity issues on this particular substrate. Too bad the compound is already commercially viable, though from a limited number of sources (nearly all Chinese so there is no way to competing with the price). Obviously, there is not much demand or else there would be more companies selling it, given it is not a new compound.




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