The activation of relatively inert non-polar chemical bonds is key to numerous catalytic functionalization processes generating high value-added chemical products. In the region of 75% of all chemicals currently require catalysts at some stage in their manufacture, and typical catalysts feature heavier late Transition Metals, reflecting their amenability to bond modifying redox processes. Issues relating to the sustainable availability/cost of such elements and the incorporation of heavy metals into products, mean that the search for alternative catalytic platforms is at the cutting edge scientifically and economically. Main group metals, by contrast, are inexpensive, abundant, and in the cases of the lighter elements (such as the germanium compounds ultimately targeted here) less of an issue with regard to toxicity. The step change in homogenous catalysis which this proposal seeks to bring about is to open up catalytic bond modification processes based on redox chemistry (oxidative addition/reductive elimination) to Main Group metals. Our approach will be built on exciting preliminary results for tin systems, while ultimately targeting catalysts based around germanium, which is more environmentally benign, but a more challenging redox prospect. Our goals for the lifetime of this project are not so much to produce immediate replacements for existing Transition Metal systems in societally important catalytic transformations, but rather to establish the fundamental ground rules for catalyst design in what is an entirely new area of endeavour.
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