Because fine chemicals are complex, producing them can use a lot of energy and produce a lot of waste. Dr Motomu Kanai and his team at the University of Tokyo are working to make this process simpler and more environmentally friendly. They have started with easily accessible, feedstock hydrocarbons – in this case alkenes – and used them to produce homoallylic alcohols, which are important intermediates in the production of fine chemicals. The reaction does not need any special conditions such as high heat or pressure – the scientist just needs shine light on it to activate it.
This reaction is possible thanks to a special catalyst. The catalyst is a large molecule based on the metal chromium, and it behaves asymmetrically – which means it can control the way the reaction happens spatially, adding a new group to one end of the alkene rather than the other.
Dr Kanai explains how he hopes this work will develop the field of fine chemicals production: "Synthetic processes of organic molecules will be significantly shortened and environmentally-friendlier than the processes today, which often rely on multiple synthetic steps and use of stoichiometric organometallic reagents."
"Organic synthesis is a foundation of numerous molecular technologies. Therefore, the advancement of organic synthesis will vastly influence many fields using organic molecules, including medicine, agriculture, food production, polymers, organoelectronics, etc., and benefit people’s lives all over the world."
This article is free to read in our open access, flagship journal Chemical Science: Harunobu Mitsumuma, Motomu Kanai et al., Chem. Sci., 2019, Advance Article. DOI: 10.1039/C8SC05677C. You can access our 2019 ChemSci Picks in this article collection. Read more like this