In a step toward more environmentally benign chemistry, researchers have designed
a new catalyst that reduces pollution from a commercially important, century-old
Chemists use the reaction, called the Baeyer-Villiger oxidation, to make classes
of molecules called esters and lactones. These, in turn, go into polymers,
pharmaceuticals, and fragrances.
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In the new work, chemists found a way to substitute hydrogen peroxide for the
waste-producing acids now used in Baeyer-Villiger oxidation. In its current form,
the reaction produces a molecule of waste, also an acid, with each product
molecule, says Avelino Corma of the Institute of Chemical Technology at the
Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain.
Not so for the hydrogen peroxide approach, which produces only water as a by-
product in this reaction, says Corma. To work efficiently, however, this modified
reaction requires a catalyst. Until now, potential catalysts have fallen short.
Some have led to a variety of products, rather than the one desired molecule.
Other catalysts end up dissolving in the reaction solution and are difficult to
separate from the product.
In the July 26 Nature, Corma and other researchers from Valencia and Universal Oil
Products, a chemical company in Des Plaines, Ill., present a solution to these
problems. The researchers made zeolite crystals with tin atoms built into the many
channels within the crystals. These tin-zeolite catalysts produced the desired
esters and lactones from the Baeyer-Villiger oxidation when the researchers
substituted hydrogen peroxide for the typical acid ingredient. What’s more, the
researchers report, the crystal doesn’t dissolve and can be easily filtered from a
solution and reused.
Universal Oil Products is now trying to scale up the researchers’ laboratory-scale
variation on the Baeyer-Villiger oxidation reaction, says Corma.