New copper catalysts for the sustainable construction of organic molecules

A European project grant awarded to the Q-BIS research group of the Department of Chemistry of the UdG aims to develop catalysts based on metals other than palladium, which is very toxic and very expensive, to find new reactivities and selectivities, previously unknown in chemical synthesis processes.

The search for new processes to synthesize organic molecules is an extremely active field of research in the pharmaceutical industry and in new material synthesis. The tools used to build new carbon-carbon bonds are based on reactions catalyzed by compounds containing transition metals, especially compounds that contain palladium, which is also used, although much less extensively, for the construction of C-X bonds (where X can be oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, halide, etcetera).

Despite the efficiency of these processes catalyzed by palladium compounds (which was honoured by the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), the need to develop new catalysts based on other metals has recently been recognized. Because palladium is one of the most toxic and expensive elements, there is great interest in seeing a change from this precious metal to less toxic and expensive metals. In addition to lower costs and greater environmental sustainability, such a change should lead to new reactivities and selectivities, previously unknown in the chemistry of palladium.

The Sustainable C-X and C-H Functionalization Catalyzed by Copper (III) Species (SUSCATCU3) project will be carried out over the next five years by the Research Group in Bioinorganic and Supramolecular Chemistry (Q-BIS) of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Girona (UdG) with a budget of 1,500,000 euros and Dr Xavi Ribas as the chief investigator. Its aim is to broaden the understanding of the reaction mechanisms of catalytic processes to construct organic molecules, primarily using copper catalysts, and to design new catalysts that would make the reactions more sustainable.

The oxidation state 3+ of copper is expected to be especially important in this chemistry. This project aims to develop compounds of copper (and of other metals from the first transition series, such as iron, manganese, nickel and cobalt) to substitute the palladium compound currently used, and thereby elaborate a set of synthetic tools to be used in a multitude of catalytic processes for the synthesis of organic molecules.

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