University of Alberta chemistry researchers have discovered an active catalyst that has the potential to improve the efficiency and environmental impact of manufacturing processes used to make products such as agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The research, led by U of A chemistry professor Steven Bergens, targeted the organic compound amide, a raw material used by many industries to make a variety of chemical products. Bergens and his research team found that combining hydrogen with the catalyst ruthenium could produce a variety of desired chemical products efficiently, safety and without creating potentially environmentally dangerous waste. The new catalyst is considered to be "green" because it can be produced easily by any industry, avoiding the expense of shipping tons of catalytic chemicals by truck or rail. The waste produced by this catalyst is mostly hydrogen and can be reused, turned into water or recycled as heating energy. Researchers around the world have been working for more than 50 years to find a catalytic system for this vital class of reaction that operates efficiently and produces little to no waste. Currently industries such as agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals must ship huge quantities of highly volatile catalytic chemicals for mass production of their products. The waste produced is expensive to process and can be hazardous to the environment. Bergens says the discovery of a cheap catalyst with minimal and reusable waste is a "game changer" with the potential to revolutionize the chemical industry.