Research findings could revolutionise industrial catalysts

March 26, 2010
The crystal structure of the nanoporous crystal showing the “molecular wall-tie” ligands (green) binding between the iron centres.

( -- It is a long-held ambition of scientists to prepare porous solids within which they are able to mimic the sophisticated chemistry performed by nature. Research published today (26th March 2010) in the journal Science describes how a group of scientists have made a breakthrough and are now a step closer to achieving this ambition.

Researchers from Cardiff University and the University of Manchester succeeded in engineering crystals that are able to maintain their structure, providing a permanent porous matrix within which chemical reactions can take place. With this new porous crystal, made from an iron-containing compound called phthalocyanine, the group are looking to nature to maximise its potential within the field of industrial catalysts.

They are taking their initiative from enzymes, nature’s catalysts that have a wide range of roles in biological environments, including speeding up chemical reactions within the human body. They are particularly interested in hemoproteins, a type of protein that contains iron porphyrin, a close relative of iron phthalocyanine, that are unusual in the diversity of tasks they are able to perform. The group used the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory and Diamond’s Single Crystal beamline I19 to understand whether it is possible to make porous crystals with the reactivity of hemoproteins in order to produce more effective man-made catalysts.

Lead author on the paper, Prof. Neil McKeown from Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry, explains the significance of the group’s achievement: “Normally the voids within nanoporous crystals of this type need to be filled with organic solvent and if this is removed they simply collapse losing their and therefore the space in which to carry out . But by taking inspiration from the use of cavity wall-ties in architectural engineering, we have stabilised our crystals with the addition of suitable , that can bind simultaneously to two iron atoms, thus acting as ‘molecular wall-ties."

The design of the new type of crystal is such that they can exist happily in water based environments and are accessible to gas molecules. This aspect makes them a contender for future industrial catalysts.

Explore further: Study of atomic movement may influence design of pharmaceuticals

More information: Heme-Like Coordination Chemistry Within Nanoporous Molecular Crystals, C. Grazia Bezzu, Madeleine Helliwell, John E. Warren, David R. Allan, Neil B. McKeown. Science 26 March 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5973, pp. 1627 - 1630. DOI:10.1126/science.1184228

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not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
This is really cool. Being able to create a stable porous network is a huge step. Now scientists just need to tie catalytic nano-clusters to the cells, make them the proper size, and we are entering an era where catalysts for any reaction can be engineered pretty simply.

I can see a few years off where I can enter in a computer the beginning reactants and the desired product (provided of course that the product can be generated from the reactants), and the program will calculate then direct another device to synthesize the proper catalyst.
not rated yet Mar 28, 2010
I think the purpose of the article is that the iron compounds would ideally function as the catalyst, as iron-heme compounds are understood somewhat well, and can carry out oxidation reactions.

These clusters if they have pores large enough to, say, allow the passage organic molecules, could be used for oxidation reactions. The "solution" would be water or methanol or something environmentally benign, and the clusters could then be recycled. I'm not that competent about industrial processes, but if you have something porous that doesn't dissolve in your solvent, I guess you could have your reactants move through and not have to worry about purification.

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