The oxo reaction is the general or generic name for a process in which an unsaturated hydrocarbon is reacted with carbon monoxide and hydrogen to form oxygen function compounds, such as aldehydes and alcohols.

In a typical process for the production of oxo alcohols, the feedstock comprises an olefin stream, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen. In a first step, the olefin reacts with CO and H2 in the presence of a catalyst (often cobalt) to produce an aldehyde that has one more carbon atom than the originating olefin:


This step is exothermic and requires an ancillary cooling operation.

The raw aldehyde exiting from the oxo reactor then is subjected to a higher temperature to convert the catalyst to a form for easy separation from the reaction products. The subsequent treatment also decomposes unwanted by-products. The raw aldehyde then is hydrogenated in the presence of a catalyst (usually nickel) to form the desired alcohol:


The raw alcohol then is purified in a fractionating column. In addition to the purified alcohol, by-products include a light hydrocarbon stream and a heavy oil. The hydrogenation step takes place at about 150°C under a pressure of about 1470 psi (10.13 MPa). The olefin conversion usually is about 95 percent.

Among important products manufactured in this manner are substituted propionaldehyde from corresponding substituted ethylene, normal and iso-butyraldehyde from propylene, iso-octyl alcohol from heptene, and trimethylhexyl alcohol from di-isobutylene.

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