Public Release: 

A less hazardous means to create phosphorus compounds

Phosphoric acid as a precursor to chemicals traditionally synthesized from white phosphorus

American Association for the Advancement of Science

A Less Hazardous Means to Create Phosphorus Compounds: Scientists have identified a precursor that helps convert phosphorus into a range of useful compounds, all the while bypassing the need for hazardous intermediate substances that have been conventionally required for such reactions. Phosphorus-containing chemicals are abundant in many manmade substances, including herbicides, flame-retardants, catalyst ligands, battery electrolytes, pharmaceuticals, and detergents. However, production of most phosphorus-containing chemicals (other than fertilizer) relies on energy-intensive reduction of phosphate to white phosphorus followed by the use of chlorine - two substances so hazardous that they've been used in chemical warfare. Here, Michael B. Geeson and Christopher Cummins found a way to create phosphorus compounds without having to use these dangerous intermediates. They suspected that reducing a type of phosphate salt into a phosphide anion might result in a sufficient precursor. Indeed, the researchers found that the newly discovered anions, called bis(trichlorosilyl)phosphide anions, worked well in a variety of reactions. For example, they used it to create a phosphorus-containing compound that's found in a type of hypertension medication. As well, they used bis(trichlorosilyl)phosphide anions to create a substance with fluorine bonds that's used as an electrolyte in lithium ion batteries. These results suggest that the newly discovered anions could be used to produce a diverse array of phosphorus-containing compounds.

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