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The research group of Joost Reek, Professor of Supramolecular Catalysis at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), have taken a major step forward in the search for selective catalysts for processes in the fine chemicals industry. The research results will be published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Homogeneous catalysis using transition metals is an important area in chemistry, because with this technique new selective synthesis routes are possible. The research group of Joost Reek, Professor of Supramolecular Catalysis at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), made a rhodium biphosphine complex with a carboxylate binding site. As a result, the researchers have taken a major step forward in the search for selective catalysts for processes in the fine chemicals industry. The research results will be published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In nature, enzymes frequently make use of cofactors (small auxiliary molecules), which assist in chemical transformations. The researchers used these natural mechanisms as inspiration for their new strategy. Pawel Dydio, a member of Prof. Reek’s research group, made a rhodium biphosphine complex with a carboxylate binding site. The rhodium is an active catalyst for a reaction in which hydrogen is added to a carbon bond. This process can normally lead to two enantiomeric (mirror image) forms of the product. To be bound by a chiral cofactor at the binding site of the complex ensures that only one of the mirror images of the product is made.

Cofactor catalyst selectivity increases

The rhodium also appears to be able to select the most appropriate cofactor. The researchers developed an experiment in which twelve different co-actors compete with the rhodium complex binding site. The cofactor with the highest selectivity appears to win. The molecule with the strongest bond is therefore the most selective. This offers new Darwinian possibilities in the search for selective catalysts.

InCatT, a spin-off company of the homogeneous catalysis group of Prof. Reek, is going to study the commercial potential of this now patented invention.

Publication details

Pawel Dydio, Christophe Rubay, Tendai Gadzikwa, Martin Lutz en Joost Reek, ‘“Cofactor”-Controlled Enantioselective Catalysis, Journal of the American Chemical Society (October 2011).