The central research themes in my research program are the current challenges in the field of sustainable chemistry, in which the development of clean synthesis routes and clean chemical production processes are paramount for a sustainable society. In the past years, my research group has largely focused on the development of molecular catalysts based on non-noble metals like manganese, iron and cobalt as alternatives to catalyst based on noble metals, and on the development of catalysts that find application in the conversion of biomass to chemical building blocks.
In the development of new molecular catalysts (homogeneous catalysts) the structure and action of the active sites of metallo-enzymes play a large inspirational role. These sites contain non-noble metal ions, as opposed to the noble metals typically found in synthetic catalysts which face issues related to price, availability, and toxicity. In addition, these sites are able to perform a variety of chemical reactions of which many are amongst the ‘dream reactions’ for the synthetic chemist.
In the past years, my group has made significant contributions to the development of ‘bio-inspired’ oxidation catalyst based on manganese and iron. These catalysts can perform highly selective oxidation reactions (aliphatic and aromatic C–H bond oxidations and olefin epoxidations) and allow for the use of significantly reduced catalyst loadings in combination with the benign oxidant H2O2. In addition, we have developed a new class of bio-inspired, cobalt-based catalysts that catalyze the reduction of protons for the generation of H2-gas, a sustainable energy carrier. These catalysts operate via a unique reaction mechanism that involves a ligand-derived C–H bond in the formation of H2.
Biomass materials, such as agricultural waste streams, represent an important alternative to fossil feedstocks to produce (bulk and commodity) chemicals by the chemical industry. My group has been actively involved in the past years in the search for molecular catalysts that are able to convert (crude) biomass sources into chemical buildings blocks, such as olefin and epoxides.
Research in my group has, e.g., lead to the development of homogeneous catalysts for the selective conversion of bio-based alcohols and vicinal diols to the corresponding olefin, such as styrene and 1-octene. In addition, homogeneous catalysts have been developed for the mild conversion of unsaturated fatty acids and plant oils to the corresponding epoxides, in high yields and selectivities.
The research activities of my research group are part of the recently established Institute for Sustainable and Circular Chemistry, ISCC.