The Compuestos de Coordinación y Organometálicos group of the University of Huelva is designing ecological catalysts to get important products such as adhesives, textiles and products with pharmacological, antibiotic or insecticide properties from hydrocarbons -- organic molecules derived from oil production.
The process of obtaining these products proposed by the Huelva-based experts has many advantages. On the one hand, you can get products with a great deal of cheap molecules, such as hydrocarbons. Also, the process does not generate pollutant subproducts and allows to reuse catalysts, that is, the metallic complexes that accelerate chemical reactions, as they are based on clean compounds.
This unique methodology, according to leading researcher María del Mar Díaz Requejo, has resulted in the project being considered as a project of excellence by the Andalusian Ministry of Innovation, Science and Enterprise, also funded with 267,668 euros, under the category of research led by young researchers. "Aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons are very abundant substrates created by the petrochemical industry. Due to their availability and low cost, they are excellent candidates to be used as base materials in reactions that result in them turning into other more complex highly important molecules," Díaz Requejo said.
Experts are developing catalysts that cause these transformations by means of processes carried out at room temperature, which do not generate unwanted subproducts but products of interest for the fine chemical sector. "We use by-products of cooper, silver and gold to accelerate the transformation reaction of a reactive into a product, that is, as catalysts," the researcher explained.
After this reaction happens, molecules of a high added value are obtained. For example, from benzene researchers get substances with anti-inflammatory properties, such as ibuprofen and naxopren. Experts have also got products derived from cyclopropane with insecticide properties, as well as polymers with adhesive properties or a basic compound of nylon.
These materials confirm the efficacy of this environmentally friendly process, because the result of the whole reaction is what the researchers wish, without by-products that have no connection to the aimed result. Ecology is also applied to the catalysts, because they are recycled. ‘We make the substance which accelerates the reaction heterogeneous, that is, each unit of catalysing substance can change many reactives into products', this young chemist explained and she added that it is possible to work with non conventional dissolvents such as supercritical fluids, that is, gases that after being applied certain temperature and pressure, turn into a liquid, which is a clean dissolvent.
The group has a ten-year career working into the development of catalysts of metals of group 11 in the periodic table (gold, silver and cooper). In fact, there are already two patents of the participants in this project related to catalysts of silver and gold synthesized in the laboratory of the University of Huelva.
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