Catalysts from Mülheim get „lazy guys“ going

List group publishes their results with “Nature”

January 16, 2024

Aliphatic molecules are important for industry, but usually not very reactive. A new catalyst from Mülheim has changed that. The research group of Prof. Benjamin List has published their results with “Nature”. 

So-called aliphatic hydrocarbons play a major role in the chemical industry, but are not easy to handle from a scientific point of view. These special molecules form precursors of desired substances in many important reactions - for example in the production of gasoline. However, as they have almost no functional groups, these molecules are not particularly reactive. In order to activate them, industrial processes usually require additional, highly reactive reagents and high temperatures. In addition, the reactions involving aliphatic molecules are often not particularly selective. This means that there are often undesirable by-products.

The research group led by Prof. Dr. Benjamin List from the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung, has now succeeded in getting the rather "lazy" particles to react after all - without the previously necessary addition of further reagents and without the aforementioned high temperatures. The choice of the right catalyst plays a key role here.

"We used our super-acidic, confined imidodiphosphorimidate (IDPi) catalysts," explains Vijay Wakchaure, researcher from Benjamin List's department. Their team has been working with strong and confined acids as catalysts for quite some time. List is convinced that these acids have what it takes to catalyze all kinds of reactions.

However, the fact that these strong and confined acids from the List laboratory are used as catalysts for asymmetric reactions in which both the substrate and the product are pure aliphatic hydrocarbons is new.

"We have achieved excellent regio- and enantioselectivity with our catalyst," emphasizes Vijay Wakchaure. Specifically, the team has been working on so-called cationic Wagner-Meerwein rearrangement, a reaction named after Georg Wagner and Hans Meerwein. This type of reaction is of great importance for chemical synthesis and biosynthesis. List and his team have also been able to show that the new method is also suitable for reactions in which aromatic hydrocarbons are used as substrates.

The scientists led by Benjamin List have published the results of their work in the article "Catalytic asymmetric cationic shifts of aliphatic hydrocarbons" in the journal Nature.

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