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Unravelling the secrets of Cu-based catalysts for C-H activation

Project description

Cross-fertilisation is sowing the seeds for a new era of catalysts

Synthetic chemistry is critical to fields from biomedicine to industrial chemistry. In multiple reaction steps, new compounds can be formed through functionalisation of existing ones. Catalytic functionalisation of carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds is an intense area of research. The range of substrates is virtually limitless, including hydrocarbons, complex organic compounds, and synthetic and biological polymers. C-H functionalisation based on this unlimited repertoire of starting points is believed to have the potential to revolutionise the synthesis of complex molecules. The persistent challenge is the amazing stability of the C-H bond. The EU-funded CUBE project is pulling together insights from numerous fields regarding pioneering copper-containing biological and synthetic catalysts. This cross-fertilisation is expected to lead to exotic fruit with unprecedented catalytic benefits.


The Holy Grail of selective C-H activation has been vigorously pursued for more than 70 years in all areas of catalysis - homogeneous, heterogeneous and biological - yet with scarce cross-fertilization. CUBE will bridge this gap, by synergistically disclosing the secrets of Cu-containing biological and synthetic catalysts and translating the acquired knowledge into rationally designed new catalysts with unprecedented activity, selectivity and turn-over numbers.
CUBE will capitalize on the recent discovery of abundant and experimentally accessible natural enzymes (LPMOs) that activate resilient C-H bonds using a mono-Cu catalytic center, thus providing a biological analogue to synthetic Cu-zeolites. CUBE will also harness the potential of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which offer unprecedented (“enzyme-like”) flexibility in catalyst development. C-H activating Cu-containing Zr-MOFs have just been described. CUBE will generate trans-disciplinary insights into Cu-based catalysts to progress beyond the state of the art in C-H activation. To this aim, we will elucidate the key mechanistic features of oxidant activation by O2, as well as N2O and H2O2, and then C-H activation. Emerging design principles from these studies will evolve new catalysts, including engineered enzymes, enzyme-polymer hybrid materials, and MOFs. To enable these efforts, we will develop novel methodologies at the interface of spectroscopy and computational chemistry.
The project brings together leading players in complementary fields: design, synthesis and testing of catalysts (UiO), enzymology and protein engineering (NMBU), spectroscopic investigations of heterogeneous catalysts (UoT) and spectroscopic/computational studies of homogeneous and biological catalysts (MPI). Through a work-plan conceived to maximize cross-fertilization within the project team, we will design and develop novel catalysts for tomorrow’s C-H activation chemistry.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 906 039,00
0313 Oslo

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Norge Oslo og Viken Oslo
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 906 039,38

Beneficiaries (4)