A new type of more efficient catalyst for the chemical industry

Basic chemical compounds are a fundamental part of the chemical industry, since they are necessary for the manufacture of more complex substances. A team from the University of Barcelona led by ICREA Research Professor, Anton Vidal Ferran, from the Department of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry of the Faculty of Chemistry, has developed a library of more efficient rhodium-based catalysts that improve the manufacturing process. of aldehydes, compounds with different industrial applications in sectors such as perfumery, pharmaceuticals or fine chemicals, among others.

These functionalized organic compounds are obtained from basic raw materials and require a large production volume and low cost to satisfy the needs of the different industry players. These are usually produced by hydroformylation reactions of alkenes as starting substrates.

However, the hydroformylation process presents the problem that the reactions lead to the production of unwanted secondary products. The new catalysts developed by the UB researchers mainly allow the synthesis reactions to be more selective and lead to a greater amount of the aldehyde of interest. This fact translates into greater effectiveness and sustainability of the process, with less waste generation and less energy consumption in the production process.

The technology developed is based on rhodium catalysts and consists of a single ligand in combination with a precursor of this metal, both acting as central components of the catalytic system. Furthermore, the use of an external agent (also called buffering agent) in combination with the ligand and the rhodium precursor improves the selectivity of the reaction, emphasizing the chemoselectivity and regioselectivity of the process. That is, the preference that a chemical reaction that can take place in many ways, leads very largely to a single final product, in this case an aldehyde.

The innovative technology is in phase 4 of the Technological Maturity scale, since the researchers have synthesized multigram quantities of the catalytic system in the laboratory in addition to several high-value aldehydes. Furthermore, a patent application has already been made to protect this innovative method of synthesis of linear aldehydes.

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