News International Sugar Journal

Sugar-powered catalysis is an effective non-toxic alternative

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield are pioneering the use of simple sugars to power chemical reactions. This renewable, inexpensive and relatively nontoxic method harnesses simple sugars to facilitate chemical reactions, and will find use in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

The lead researcher Jason Camp, who has been exploring sugar-powered catalysis for the last six years, said sugars have been used for catalysis in the past, but techniques such as advanced spectroscopy have enabled him and his co-researchers to make key breakthroughs such as the requirement to minimize oxygen from the system in order to allow for a sugar-powered process. The researchers have investigated a variety of reducing sugars – including sucrose and fructose – but glucose has become their principal focus.

Many industries, including the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries, have made extensive use of palladium-mediated cross-couplings for the synthesis of added-value compounds. In order to work effectively, these processes often require toxic and expensive additives, which leads to unnecessary waste, expense and cost to the environment. Dr Camp and his team found that in situ-generated, glucose-derived palladium(0) nanoparticles were shown to be convenient and effective catalysts, as the addition of only 4–10 mol% glucose to the reaction mixture led to a significant increase in yield of the desired products in comparison to processes that omitted sugar. As a proof-of-concept their method was applied to the synthesis of the agrochemical Boscalid, which is produced on a >1000 ton / year scale, and it was found that a significant reduction in molar efficiency compared to a standard protocol. From these observations, the researchers conclude that their “study provides the groundwork for a simple technology that opens up exciting opportunities for the development of a variety of catalytic systems in which the reducing potential of renewable sugars is harnessed for the generation, stabilisation and turnover of catalytically active metal nanoparticles – sugar-powered catalysis”. Dr Camp plans on working with industrial partners to build on these initial studies.

Findings are published in RSC Advances (DOI: 10.1039/C5RA25712C), published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Dr Camp and his team are also examining the use of environmentally-benign solvent that contains no oil-derived substances. To this end, a collaboration has been formed with the multi-national company Circa Group, which is a pioneer in the processing of cellulose into green solvents.