Industrial mysteries: Where’d That Chemical Come From?

Mystery abounds, in little ways, in the industries that supply chemicals. Derek Lowe, writing in Chemical World, opens the curtain on some of those mysteries:

So the world of chemical supply is far from straightforward, and it can be affected in unpredictable ways. The last two years have illustrated some of these…

The complications become apparent. When you order a compound or reagent, it may be difficult to impossible to tell where it really came from. An extreme example is an alkaloid called sparteine, which is used in small amounts in chiral synthesis. It appears that someone isolated a very large batch of it for some reason (perhaps about 20 or 25 years ago) and nearly all the commercial sparteine since then traces back to that same drum, sold and re-sold in catalogue after catalogue. Eventually it was in short supply, and it turned out that no one was actually making it at all!