Shedding new light on greener synthesis pathways

25 oktober 2019

In a new collaborative project involving chemists with various backgrounds, researchers are seeking greener and more sustainable ways of producing organic compounds. If they succeed, several thousand tonnes of waste a year can be eliminated from the chemical industry.

Sascha Ott. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Sascha Ott of the Department of Chemistry is leading the project, which was recently awarded SEK 35 million by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW).

In the new research project, the scientists will focus on finding new alternatives to several reactions that are widely used in the chemical industry at present. One example of a reaction used on a large scale, which creates troublesome residual products, is production of vitamin A. This creates a phosphorus-containing by-product that needs to be dealt with.

However, it is not just the waste that may cause problems. To effect a chemical change, reagents that can be both toxic and difficult to handle are used.

In their pursuit of smarter synthesis pathways, the researchers decided to collaborate across classic subject boundaries. In physical chemistry, work on converting sunlight into electricity and renewable fuels has been under way for several years. What will now be investigated in the project is whether light energy can also be applied or used in synthetic organic chemistry. Is it possible to use light energy efficiently as a greener reagent? Colleagues from various fields bring differing perspectives to the work.

“The really exciting discoveries are at the interface among the various fields of knowledge. In this project, we’re all getting outside our comfort zone and taking in new aspects,” says Sascha Ott, Professor of Synthetic Molecular Chemistry and head of the project.

The project objective is to develop new synthesis pathways that generate less waste, or new synthetic routes that have not been practicable before.