University of Alberta chemistry researchers have discovered an active catalyst that has the potential to improve the efficiency and environmental impact of manufacturing processes used to make products such as agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The research led by U of A chemistry professor Steven Bergens targeted the organic compounds known as amides, which are raw materials used by many industries to make a variety of chemical products. Bergens and his research team found that combining hydrogen with their new catalyst transforms amides into a variety of desired chemical products efficiently, safety and without potentially environmentally dangerous waste.
The new catalyst is considered to be green because it produces no by-products and it uses hydrogen that can be produced easily by any industry on site. Any excess hydrogen remaining after the reaction can be reused or simply burned to generate water and heating energy. In contrast, the current, conventional method used by industry requires expensive and dangerous shipping of tons of highly flammable, reactive chemicals by truck or rail, and it also produces large amounts of waste that must be removed at added cost and threat to the environment.
Researchers around the world have been working for more than 50 years to find a catalytic system for this vital class of reaction that operates efficiently and produces little to no waste.
Currently industries such agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals must ship huge quantities of highly reactive and flammable chemicals for mass production of their products. The waste produced is expensive to process and can be hazardous to the environment.
Bergens says the discovery of a cheap catalyst with minimal and re-useable waste has the potential to revolutionize the chemical industry from an economic and green perspective.
The work of Bergens and U of A graduate student Jeremy John was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.