Organocatalysts;  a new era of green chemistry.

The Nobel prize for chemistry 2021 has been awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan for development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis which has made chemistry greener.

According to the press release by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who award the Nobel prize,

“Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of diseases. This work requires catalysts, which are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product. For example, catalysts in cars transform toxic substances in exhaust fumes to harmless molecules. Our bodies also contain thousands of catalysts in the form of enzymes, which chisel out the molecules necessary for life.

Catalysts are thus fundamental tools for chemists, but researchers long believed that there were, in principle, just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Benjamin List and David MacMillan are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 because in 2000 they, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.”

Organocatalysts are simple & ingenious

“This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn’t think of it earlier,” says Johan Åqvist, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

According to John Timmer, Ars Technica’s Science Editor. Organocatalysts offer several game-changing benefits, they.

1. Replace metals in many processes which can preserve scarce resources and lower cost.

2. Reduce the amount of energy required to produce a reaction due to the ease of transmissibly of their organic molecules.

3. Synergistically bring chemical and biological reactions together for enhanced results.

This is positive indeed, however when you consider that organocatalysts are plant based, the significance of the Nobel Prize becomes clear. The environmental benefit may be profound given the pressing need for sustainable alternatives. Thus, the timing of this award and the awareness it will generate is most welcome.

We congratulate Benjamin List and David MacMillan on their award. We hope it will encourage further research but also be the public acknowledgement of the efficacy of these plant-based organocatalysts and drive their widespread adoption. Alps Ecoscience UK has been working with this technology, which we call bio-organic catalysts, for the last 5 years. In our field of environmental services, there are significant opportunities for product substitution and process improvement.

Replacement for traditional chemicals

In water treatment bio-organic catalysts are an alternative to ferric chloride in sludge removal. For cooling towers, the action of catalysts denies legionella bacteria the growth media for reproduction. The effect is similar too in paper mills and irrigation lines with the catalyst preventing the formation of films that stop pipes flowing and drums turning.

Increasing the rate of reaction

In anaerobic digestion for biogas production the impact is even more profound.  Bio-organic catalysts facilitate the optimal environment for anaerobic digestion, reducing the energy required for reaction, speeding up the AD process. This ensures greater transfer of molecules from solid to liquid and gas resulting in more effective formulation of new compounds. With the application of organocatalysts in biogas operations they experience more complete digestion and higher conversion of the organic matter into methane and natural fertiliser. The commercial and environment upsides are compelling.

Through our ongoing partnership with Bio-organic Inc, we promote the value of organocatalysts and champion their increased application and adoption. For more information or to arrange a discussion, contact Alps Ecoscience here.

Links to sources:

Read the full article

Read the original research paper by Benjamin List

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