The researchers say that using copper, a cheaper and more commonly available metal, as a catalyst for a cross-coupling reaction is a breakthrough in sustainability, as this reaction typically relies on the use of precious metals such as palladium.
The new method is also considered advantageous because the copper metal in the molecular catalyst itself absorbs blue light, rather than requiring a separate light-absorbing compound in addition to the catalyst. This makes synthesis not only cheaper and easier to perform, but also easier to control because there are fewer moving parts.
Blue light plays a key role in activating the copper-based catalyst. Theoretical calculations have shown that this exposure to light causes electrons to move from the metallic copper atom to a connected subunit of the molecular catalyst. This excited state separated the electrical charges, making the catalyst much more reactive and, thus, the researchers were able to use it to carry out a cross-coupling reaction which creates an acyl group, useful for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and photoelectronic materials. . .
A key aspect of this method is that the formation of the acyl group occurs asymmetrically. This means that one of two possible mirror-image versions of the product molecule is selectively produced, a highly desired feature for new drug development.
The scientists tested their new method with several raw materials, including a material derived from probenecid, a drug against gout. They say the product they obtained from this raw material has potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry.
Implementation of this new method is expected to both save costs and increase the sustainability of the production of a wide variety of chemical compounds with potential uses in medicine and electronics.
“This synthetic method is a breakthrough because it combines two readily available elements, blue LED light and copper, to achieve a coupling reaction that did not exist before,” said Yusuke Masuda, lead author of the study, in A press release. “Technology that produces useful compounds from resources abundantly available on earth is essential for the sustainable development of humanity. I expect this breakthrough to become a milestone in the development of sustainable molecular synthesis methods.