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An aldehyde synthesis process that falls under the general classification of a Fischer-Tropsch reaction but is distinguished by the addition of an olefin feed along with the characteristic carbon monoxide and hydrogen. In the oxo process for alcohol manufacture, hydroformylation of olefins to aldehydes is the first step. The second step is the hydrogenation of the aldehydes to alcohols. At times the term “oxo process” is used in reference to the hydroformylation step alone. In the hydroformylation step, olefin, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen are reacted over a cobalt catalyst to produce an aldehyde which has one more carbon atom than the feed olefin. As in the reaction below, the olefin conversion takes place by the addition of a formyl group (CHO) and a hydrogen atom across the double bond. See Fischer-Tropsch process
The aldehyde is then treated with hydrogen to form the alcohol. In commercial operations, the hydrogenation step is usually performed immediately after the hydroformylation step in an integrated system.
A wide range of carbon-number olefins, C2–C16, have been used as feeds. Propylene, heptene, and nonene are frequently used as feedstocks to produce normal and isobutyl alcohol, isooctyl alcohol, and primary decyl alcohol, respectively. Feed streams to oxo units may be single-carbon-number or mixed-carbon-number olefins.
The lower-carbon-number alcohols such as butanols are used primarily as solvents, while the higher-carbon-number alcohols go into the manufacture of plasticizers, detergents (surfactants), and lubricants.