Posted in | Pollution

Biomimetic Polypeptide Catalysts Pave Way for Greener Chemical Processes

Image Credits: robert_s/shutterstock.com

Researchers at Université Laval have created catalysts that, like enzymes found in living cells, are capable of functioning efficiently in water.

This discovery reveals that it may be possible to significantly decrease the use of toxic and non-recyclable organic solvents in a multitude of chemical reactions, mainly when synthesizing pharmaceutical ingredients. The details of the discovery were published in Chemical Communications.

The vast majority of chemically synthesized compounds are produced by reactions using organic solvents. These solvents are toxic and difficult to reuse, but the industry turns to them because very few reactions can take place efficiently in water. However, all cellular reactions occur in an aqueous medium, without such organic solvents. That's what gave us the idea to develop a biomimetic process inspired by enzymes, the natural catalysts found in cells.

Professor Normand Voyer, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Université Laval

The researchers' solution is grounded on polypeptides, short chains of a single amino acid that, because of their hydrophobic nature, serve as a catalyst in reactions involving non-water-soluble chemicals and reagents.

The most effective catalyst we have tested so far is poly-L-leucine. Our work has allowed us to identify the conditions needed to ensure the catalyst's optimal efficacy in a classic reaction commonly used in chemistry, the epoxidation reaction. We've had yields of over 95%, which compares favorably with those achieved using organic solvents.

Professor Normand Voyer, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Université Laval

The application of such biomimetic polypeptide catalysts is beneficial both from an economic and ecological perspective because they are low-cost, they do not produce toxic waste and are reusable.

Now we're trying to demonstrate that this approach is viable for other important chemical processes used by the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, or food industries.

Professor Normand Voyer, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Université Laval

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Submit