New Carbene-Based Catalyst Simplifies Chemical Preparations

New Carbene-Based Catalyst Simplifies Chemical Preparations

A team of chemists from the University of California, Riverside (UCR, Riverside, CA) has discovered a new carbene-based catalyst that makes chemical reactions faster and more economical.

Unlike most carbenes-catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions by attaching themselves to certain metals (e.g., palladium) and altering their properties to accelerate reactions-the UCR molecule has only one nitrogen atom, rendering it more flexible than the two-nitrogen structures previously thought necessary for efficient catalytic reactions. UCR’s carbene-based catalysts protect the metals to which they bind, making them stable and long lasting.

Because of this longevity, the team can use very small amounts of catalyst, driving down reaction costs. In addition, the ligand used in the UCR process is less expensive than most ligands. “When you perform a catalytic reaction, even if you use 1% of catalyst, the price of the catalyst is very often a big percentage of the cost of the reaction. Therefore, the price of the catalysts is really an issue,” says Guy Bertrand, lead author of the study and distinguished professor of chemistry at UCR. Another key aspect of the technology is that the new molecules work at room temperatures whereas other catalysts are only effective at very high temperatures.

The group is currently working to identify new reactions not yet possible with other catalysts and hopes to make their patented technology available for large-scale commercial use. French chemicals manufacturer Rhodia, which provided initial funding for the research, is currently in talks with UCR to license the technology. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the researchers a four-year grant to continue work on the project.

–Kaylynn Chiarello