Thomas, J.M., Raja, R., Sankar, G., Bell, R.G. and Lewis, D.W.
Benign by design. New catalysts for an environmentally conscious age
Pure and Applied Chemistry, 73, (7), .
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There is a pressing need for: (i) cleaner fuels (free of aromatics and of minimal sulfur
content) or ones that convert chemical energy directly to electricity, silently and without
production of noxious oxides and particulates; (ii) chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical
processes that may be conducted in a one-step, solvent-free manner, and that use air as
the preferred oxidant; and (iii) industrial processes that minimize consumption of energy,
production of waste or the use of corrosive, explosive, volatile and nonbiodegradable materials.
All these needs and other desiderata, such as the in situ production and containment of
aggressive and hazardous reagents, and the avoidance of use of ecologically harmful elements,
may be achieved by designing the appropriate heterogeneous inorganic catalyst,
which, ideally should be cheap, readily preparable, and fully characterizable, preferably
under in situ reaction conditions. A range of nanoporous and nanoparticle catalysts,
designed, synthesized, characterized, and tested by the authors and their colleagues, that
meet most of the stringent demands of sustainable development and responsible (clean) technology
is described. Specific examples that are highlighted include: (a) the production of
adipic acid (precursor of polyamides and urethanes) without the use of concentrated nitric
acid or the production of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide; (b) the production of caprolactam
(precursor of nylon) without the use of oleum and hydroxylamine sulfate; and (c) the
terminal oxyfunctionalization of linear alkanes in air. The topic of biocatalysis and sustainable
development is also briefly discussed, and a cautionary note is sounded concerning fast
screening methods for the discovery of new inorganic catalysts.
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