From liquid calcium cyanamide to a versatile primary product


The beginnings

At the end of the 1950s, researchers in Trostberg were prompted to look into cyanamide, H2NCN, the active ingredient in calcium cyanamide, CaNCN. The aim was to meet farmers’ demands for a liquid form of calcium cyanamide, which would allow easier, dust-free spreading of fertilizer. However, attempts to supply calcium cyanamide in liquid form were not successful. Instead, researchers managed to isolate and stabilize the active ingredient cyanamide as a 50% aqueous solution. Intensive research and experimentation were required to prepare free cyanamide from calcium cyanamide, and to stabilize the very reactive cyanamide solution. Over the years SKW achieved a leading position in product and application know-how. The research results also opened up a wide range of different application options for customers. Owing to its reactive nature, cyanamide was suitable for, among other things, synthesizing modern pesticides. It also found application as an intermediate product in pharmaceuticals, in organic synthesis, for manufacturing synthetic resins and insulating materials for electric applications, as well as for modifying starches.

From 1962, small quantities became available: initially by the liter, then soon on a scale of 18 tons annually; in 1964, the existing form, cyanamide L 500 in a 50% stabilized aqueous solution, was joined by cyanamide F 1000 in solid crystalline form. More substantial market launches began one year later. Every large chemical company, German and international, was offered test quantities. “Cyanamide, a versatile, very reactive organic substance with the formula H2NCN is now more widely available in experimental quantities.”

Cyanamide microphotography
Cyanamide microphotography

Versatile in application

SKW itself had already been using cyanamide as an unstabilized intermediate product for a wide range of derivatives from the combination of nitrogen-carbon-nitrogen - “NCN chemistry”. It included cyanamide and derivatives, such as guanidine salts, melamine, dicyandiamide, and thiourea. These derivatives were, and are, used in many different applications, e.g. in pharmaceutical synthesis and in the manufacture of plastic.

In 1966, the semi-technical plant, with a carbon dioxide generator facility, developed in-house, with an output of 70 tons per annum, followed.

Increasing demand resulted in a steadily increasing capacity. In 1972, a plant with 5,000 tons per annum was put into operation. Capacity was doubled in the 1980s and quadrupled in the 1990s.

Today, Evonik Industries AG leads the world in cyanamide chemistry. Cyanamide is part of the Chemicals Business Area. It has its own website and a regular information service, the Cyanamide Newsletter, underscoring its market leadership and the significance - still unchanged today - of this chemically simple compound. Numerous patents and technical publications reflect the wide range of research on cyanamide and its derivatives and their many and varied applications. The goal of the application technology has always been to animate research chemists in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry to develop new cyanamide syntheses in order to make possible novel and future-oriented applications for cyanamide chemistry. An appropriate slogan from the 1980s says: “In cyanamide, SKW supplies the fruits from which our customers make many different kinds of jam!”