Dream Fellowship. Innovations in Catalysis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemistry


This proposal is for the award of a fellowship which will allow me to devote my time solely to research activities. I have two main areas ready for development, but an additional feature of this fellowship is that additional ideas will emerge during the course of the grant. This will be achieved by fostering creativity by involvement with training in creative problem solving.
Firstly, I will investigate the preparation of biofuel from triglycerides. The conventional approach for achieving this reaction is transesterification with methanol which releases glycerol as a waste product which must be removed. Conceptually, the hydrogenolysis of the C-C bonds in the glyceride backbone would lead to biodiesel (FAME; Fatty Acid Methyl Esters) in a completely atom-efficient way with no formation of glycerol. Developing a workable strategy for the selective hydrogenolysis of C-C bonds would be a powerful synthetic method but it will be a very tough problem to solve. Its application to biodiesel synthesis would have an incredible impact - biodiesel production in Europe in 2008 was nearly 8 million tonnes!
Secondly, I want to develop a new strategy for the synthesis of bidentate ligands, which I am calling metallo-ligands. The core idea is to prepare very simple monodentate phosphines (or other donors) of the general form X-X-PR2 where the X groups are oxygen or nitrogen and the spacer groups would be easily-coupled units which could be enantiomerically pure. One metal, such as magnesium, or perhaps a lanthanide, would bind to the X groups generating a bidentate phosphine without the usual synthetic challenge that this presents. A second metal, such as ruthenium or nickel, would bind to the phosphines and be the catalytic heart of the ensemble. Subtle changes could be made to the bite angle of the phosphine; imagine progression through the lanthanide contraction; imagine changing the geometry of the first metal to switch the conformation of the ligand. The first metal could be a Lewis acid, and with an appropriate spacer, activate a molecule with high regioselectivity at the second metal site. The possibilities for catalysis seem limitless, but it needs time to develop these ideas into practical solutions.

Planned Impact

The purpose of this fellowship will be to allow me to develop current ideas and also to initiate new areas of research. The creativity training will have a long term impact on my ability to generate creative research. The impact of the ideas which are yet to be initiated cannot be judged at this stage, but the impact of the ideas which have already been formulated can be.
In the research to develop completely atom efficient conversion of vegetable oils into biodiesel, this has the potential to lead to a manufacturing process for biodiesel which does not generate glycerol as a waste product. Given that biodiesel production runs at around 20 million tonnes per year, there is the potential to save a lot of waste material. Reduced energy demands will be a conseqeunce due to easier processing, which in turn means less enviromental damage to the world.
In other project areas, the development of new, easily prepared ligands will have a significant impact on homogeneous catalysis, which is widely used in many industrial processes. A better ligand can improve catalyst reactivity and turnover, which means that reactions would need less heating and less catalyst would be required, thereby providing energy and cost benefits. This is clearly of benefit to the industry running the process, but also has a societal impact by reducing environmental damage.
Description One of the key findings has been the development of non-metallic inorganic catalysts for use in the formation of amides.
Simple iodides and the inorganic compound hydroxylamine have both been used to catalyse novel transformations. Iodide has been used as a nucleophilic catalyst, where acid chlorides are temporarily converted into more reactive acid iodide intermediates, prior to reaction with a nucleophile.
Exploitation Route Amide formation is likely to be of use in the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and polymer industries
Sectors Chemicals

URL http://people.bath.ac.uk/chsjmjw/page5.html
Description At this stage, papers are being well cited and the work is attracting considerable interest from process chemists
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Chemicals,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal