New catalysts green up industrial process

Scientists in Australia, China and Canada have made new photocatalysts that, in the presence of sunlight, can oxidise stable compounds such as toluene using oxygen at room temperature. Oxidation of toluene to commercial chemicals is a major industrial process, but it is conducted under high temperatures and oxygen pressures, or requires recovery of homogeneous cobalt catalysts.

The new photocatalysts work via a mechanism that is different from those of any known photocatalysts: the surface complexes are anchored on the surface of metal hydroxides by chemical bonds and can absorb light generating free radicals on the surface. These then initiate aerobic oxidation of the stable alkyl aromatic molecules. So, they can use sunlight to drive the production of fine organic chemicals in an efficient, green and chemoselective manner.

Link to journal article
Driving Selective Aerobic Oxidation of Alkyl Aromatics by Sunlight on Alcohol Grafted Metal Hydroxides
S Sarina et al
Chem. Sci., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/c2sc20114c

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