There are two basic chemical reactions, oxidation and reduction. Commercial chemical reduction has relied on consuming reagents which were energy costly and difficult to handle and store. A team led by Associate Professor Stephen Colbran in New South Wales designed a catalyst that mimics the activity of natural reduction enzyme catalysts.
"We believe our new biomimetic design may have wide applications in chemical reduction."
Their catalyst-based approach has the big advantages that it uses cheap, replenishable reagents and it works well at room temperature and in air -- so much so, it can even be carried out safely in a teacup.
The team combined a transition metal complex containing rhodium with a Hantzsch dihydropyridine -- an organic donor of a hydride ion similar to biological nicotinamides -- to produce the new bio-inspired catalyst. They tested it on a common process -- reduction of imines -- and were surprised to find it worked in ambient conditions with more than 90 per cent efficiency in most cases.
Dr Colbran even tested it out in a teacup. "I thought it would be a bit of fun. And it makes a serious point -- our catalyst system is very easy to use."
A future aim is to try to convert the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the renewable fuel, methanol, much more efficiently.