Catalyst in a Teacup: New Approach to Chemical Reduction

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.

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