Ken-ichi Shimizu is an Associate Professor of Catalysis Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan. His research projects focus on heterogeneous catalysis for green organic reactions and automotive emission control. Ken-ichi kindly spared Green Chemistry a few moments to talk about his work…
Who or what initially inspired you to become a chemist?
In my childhood and youth I would see my father working as an eel farmer in front of my house. Farming is a kind of empirical science for improvement of the yield and quality of the products, and a working hypothesis is refined by the accumulation of empirical facts. Until I reached undergraduate level, chemistry was not a very attractive subject for me because I could not find the concept of hypothesis in the textbook. During my master and doctoral works at Nagoya University, I discovered experimental chemistry in the field of heterogeneous catalysis. Discussions with my supervisors and students as well as the accumulation of empirical facts lead to correction or revision of the hypothesis of reaction mechanism. This experience made me a chemist.
What was the motivation behind the research described in your recent Green Chemistry article? (Green Chem., 2012, 14, 984-991)
This type of multi-step reaction generally requires precious-metal catalysts, but from environmental and economic viewpoints, the use of non-precious-metal-based heterogeneous catalysts is ideal. During the course of our preliminary study of CeO2-supported precious metal catalysts for the hydration of nitriles, we happened to discover the unusually high reactivity of pure CeO2! Then, we had an idea that CeO2 might catalyze one-pot multi-step reactions initiated by the hydration of nitriles. Control experiments sometimes lead us to a new field!
What do you see as the main challenges facing research in this area?
Development of non-precious-metal-based heterogeneous catalysts with outstanding productivity (high turnover numbers) and high turnover frequency near room temperature, for various kinds of organic syntheses is one of the most important goals.
Where do you see the field of green chemistry being in 5 or 10 years time?
After 20-30 years prices of metal and oil resources will be high, and the development of green processes and green materials will cost too much. Until that time we must establish integrated oil and biomass conversion processes with minimum use of the resources.
If you could not be a scientist, but could be anything else, what would you be?
I would be a pilot of a planetary exploration ship to discover new resources. It is just a fantasy.
Take a look at a few of Ken-ichi’s recent Green Chemistry articles below – all free to access until the 14th November:
Transfer hydrogenation of ketones by ceria-supported Ni catalysts, Katsuya Shimura and Ken-ichi Shimizu, Green Chem., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/C2GC35836K
CeO2-catalysed one-pot selective synthesis of esters from nitriles and alcohols, Masazumi Tamura, Takuya Tonomura, Ken-ichi Shimizu and Atsushi Satsuma, Green Chem., 2012, 14, 984-991
Transamidation of amides with amines under solvent-free conditions using a CeO2 catalyst, Masazumi Tamura, Takuya Tonomura, Ken-ichi Shimizu and Atsushi Satsuma, Green Chem., 2012, 14, 717-724
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