Article | July 8, 2022
An enzyme-mimicking catalyst opens a new route to important organic molecules such as glycolic acid and amino acids from pyruvate, report researchers in Japan. Moreover, the new catalyst is cheaper, more stable, safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional metal catalysts used in industry, they note, adding that it also displays the high enantioselectivity required by the pharmaceutical industry.
“On top of these advantages, our newly developed organic catalyst system also promotes reactions using pyruvate that aren’t easily achievable using metal catalysts,” says Santanu Mondal, a PhD candidate in the chemistry and chemical bioengineering unit at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, Okinawa, Japan, and lead author of a study recently published in Organic Letters.
“Organic catalysts, in particular, are set to revolutionize the industry and make chemistry more sustainable,” he stresses.
The researchers use an acid and an amine mixture to force the pyruvate to act as an electron donor rather than its usual role as an electron receiver (Figure 1).
Effectively mimicking how enzymes work, the amine binds to the pyruvate to make an intermediate molecule. The organic acid then covers up part of the intermediate molecule while leaving another part that can donate electrons free to react to form a new product.
Currently, the organic catalyst system only works when reacting pyruvate with a specific class of organic molecule called cyclic imines.
So, the researchers now are looking to develop a more-universal catalyst, i.e., one that can speed up reactions between pyruvate and a broad range of organic molecules.
The challenge here is to try to make the electron-donating intermediate stage of pyruvate react with other functional groups such as aldehydes and ketones. However, different catalysts create different intermediates, all with different properties. For example, the enamine intermediate created by the researchers’ new reaction only reacts with cyclic imines. Their hypothesis, currently being investigated, is that creation of other intermediates such as an enolate, if possible, would achieve a broader pyruvate reactivity.
In terms of cost, the researchers note that a palladium catalyst used in similar reactions is 25 times more expensive than their organic acid — which also is made from eco-friendly quinine.
In addition, they believe scale-up of the process for industrial use definitely is possible. However, the researchers caution that the current amine-to-acid-catalyst loading ratio of 1:2 probably would need to be optimized for better results at a larger scale.
Article | August 8, 2022
SEE THE END section of this blog post for a dystopian version of our environmental future. In a follow-up post – which I will publish on Thursday, 1 July – I will offer some suggestions about how we can avoid an outcome that nobody of course wants.Both posts are meant to be provocative, challenging and controversial because only through debate, and sometimes outright argument, will we get to the answers.
If you disagree after either or both posts have been published, great, that would be good. In fact, I would love to hear from you whatever your views at email@example.com. The petrochemicals industry can do this; we can fix this if we create the right forums for ideas and then solutions.
Let me provide the background first. Let me start by examining developments in the refinery industry and the implications for petrochemicals as important background. Then I will look at a sample of ICIS petrochemicals demand growth forecasts for 2020-2040. I will conclude by providing the bleakest of bleak outcomes for the world in 2025
Article | August 2, 2022
“At Anglo-American, we’re really focused on finding the
best ways to attract the most talented people in the
industry and effectively equipping our existing workforce
based on what they need today and what the future
will mean for their careers. We’re also committed to
providing learning opportunities that lead to growth and
development in the communities in which we operate.
Our people are a strategic advantage. We want to
ensure that continues to be the case as the mining industry
evolves and faces more disruption.
Article | May 20, 2021
What follows is an entirely personal take on the challenge of plastic waste and does not represent the views of ICIS or any other expert opinion I have sought out. The views are put forward in the spirit of debate as we move forward, as an industry, to solve the crisis of plastic waste.