Mar. 24, 2013 — Taking their inspiration from nature, scientists at the University of New South Wales have developed a new method for carrying out chemical reduction -- an industrial process used to produce fuels and chemicals that are vital for modern society.
Their catalyst-based approach has the big advantages that it uses cheap, replenishable reagents and it works well at room temperature and in air -- so much so, it can even be carried out safely in a teacup.
"Manufacture of these substances is energy costly, leads to the release of carbon dioxide and they are difficult to handle and store," Dr Colbran says. "So we decided to look at nature to see how nature does it."
The team combined a transition metal complex containing rhodium with a Hantzsch dihydropyridine -- an organic donor of a hydride ion similar to biological nicotinamides -- to produce the new bio-inspired catalyst. They tested it on a common process -- reduction of imines -- and were surprised to find it worked in ambient conditions with more than 90 per cent efficiency in most cases.
By coincidence, the research comes exactly a century after Alfred Werner won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the structures of transition metal complexes. As well, his PhD supervisor, Arthur Hantzsch, discovered the way to synthesise dihydropyridines.
"It has only taken 100 years to combine the work of doctoral adviser and student into one molecule," Dr Colbran says.
- Alex McSkimming, Mohan M. Bhadbhade, Stephen B. Colbran. Cover Picture: Bio-Inspired Catalytic Imine Reduction by Rhodium Complexes with Tethered Hantzsch Pyridinium Groups: Evidence for Direct Hydride Transfer from Dihydropyridine to Metal-Activated Substrate (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 12/2013). Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2013; 52 (12): 3283 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201301157
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