Catalysts play a central role in chemistry because they allow more sustainable and environmentally friendly chemical processes. The use of pure organic molecules as catalysts has been a successful alternative to metal-based compounds for the past 15 years. The EU-funded project MOMES (Modern mechanistic studies for rational catalyst design) aimed to design a new generation of catalysts with improved reactivity, efficiency and selectivity. The researchers planned to 'tune' the reactions to understand the mechanisms driving these reactions. Researchers studied the equilibria in enzyme reactions to better understand their behaviour. They used energy differences over multiple reactions, to optimise catalyst design. MOMES then studied the reaction mechanisms of their catalyst designs using the reaction progress kinetic analysis protocol. The team found out how catalyst behaviour is transferred to the product via a highly selective formation of downstream intermediates. Results showed that the process is controlled by the electron distribution of the molecules in the reaction. Project members recognised that impurities in the reagents render this type of reaction ineffective. They countered this by using a spectrum of different catalysts. This bio-inspired and iterative approach for catalyst design will make organic reactions more environmentally friendly and economically sustainable. In addition, the new kinetic and thermodynamic information released during these studies will provide more insights into catalyst behaviour.
Organic catalysts, environmentally friendly, sustainable, MOMES, catalyst design