Today I learned to say acetonitrile, courtesy of chemist Derek Lowe. On his blog, In the Pipeline, Lowe has been covering a global shortage of acetonitrile, a solvent that chemists and pharmaceutical researchers depend on for experiments.
Lowe explains that acetonitrile is a byproduct of acrylonitrile, which is used to make industrial resins and plastics — everything from Legos and cell phones to car dashboards. With the global slump, and especially the slump in the auto industry, companies stopped making acrylonitrile. Which meant they also stopped making its byproducts. And that's how the chemists found themselves without their favorite solvent.
It didn't help that China halted production as part of clearing the air before the 2008 Olympics. Lowe says a few suppliers have tried to pick up the slack, and you can see them hawking their wares lately on his post from January. But for the situation to get better fast, he says, car makers have to get back in gear.