Catalyzing green chemistry

With a new, recyclable catalyst, chemical firms could cut down on the amount of waste generated in the manufacturing of products, according to researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Industrial processes used for making products ranging from pharmaceuticals to pesticides rely heavily on catalysts, which speed the transformation of reactants into the desired chemical. But separating catalysts from final products typically requires expensive and sometimes-toxic solvents that companies later have to dispose of.

Morris Bullock and Vladimir Dioumaev at Brookhaven developed a tungsten-based catalyst for combining a ketone and an organic silicon compound to form an alkoxysilane. The tungsten catalyst automatically separates from the final product, which is a typical precursor used in making ceramics, drugs, and pesticides.

The researchers report in the July 31 Nature that as the reaction progressed in a test tube, the tungsten catalyst remained suspended in the mixture as an oily liquid. When the reaction was complete, the catalyst congealed into a sticky solid and settled to the bottom of the test tube. The researchers simply poured off the alkoxysilane and reused the catalyst. “This could save a lot of time and money,” says Bullock.

So far, the researchers have tested the catalyst only on one type of chemical reaction, but they plan to apply the catalyst to other types of reactions.


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