Sustainable iron catalyst for clean hydrogenation


Written by Emma Eley
Published on June 27, 2013 | Royal Society of Chemistry, Chemistry World

"An international team of chemists (from McGill and the RIKEN Institute, Japan) has reported a clean and green way to perform one of the most important industrial reactions for pharmaceutical and petrochemical synthesis. Platinum group metals are currently the catalysts of choice for hydrogenations due to their high activity.

However, they are also expensive, toxic and very rare. Now, in a joint project between McGill University, Canada, and the RIKEN Institute, Japan, a polymer supported iron catalyst has demonstrated excellent performance as a hydrogenation catalyst in the most environmentally-friendly of reaction mediums – water. Iron is abundant and far less toxic than the precious metal catalysts currently used, but its use in industry is limited by it rusting in the presence of oxygen and water. ‘When rusted, iron nanoparticles stop acting as hydrogenation catalysts,’ explains project leader Audrey Moores from McGill University. ‘The system we report solves this limitation and makes iron active in water.’ Amphiphilic polymers, developed by Yasuhiro Uozumi at the RIKEN Institute, are used to protect the iron catalyst from being deactivated by water while still allowing reactants to reach the catalyst's active site."

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