Researchers develop one-step process for new Lewis superacid

21 December 2022 | Muriel Cozier

‘It’s rare to come up with a unique, useful compound from just three things that you can order from a catalogue.’

Researchers from Baylor University, Texas, US, have developed a new compound, a Lewis superacid, called tris(ortho-carboranyl)borane, or BoCb3, which has application in the production of most common plastics. The team anticipates that the technology will be ‘attractive to the petroleum industry.’

Publishing the work in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition (GDCh) the researchers, led by Caleb D Martin, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Baylor University and Principle Investigator of the Martin Research Group, say that the route to the new compounds uses a simple one-step process needing only three commercially available chemicals. The three chemicals are ortho-Carborane, n-Butylithium and boron tribromide.

Lewis acids are used as activators in the production of polyolefins. Other approaches to making strong Lewis acids have been studied, but these have required time-consuming multi-step processes, and also included the use of fluorine, which can negatively impact the environment.

Martin describes the new one-step route as: ‘like making a one-pot meal.’ The researchers say that the new compound produces less waste, is less harmful to the environment, and has the potential to bring about significant reductions in manufacturing costs. The team added that given the powerful Lewis acidity and unusual steric profile, the compound offers unique synthetic opportunities in boron mediated transformations.

The new compound, BoCb3, is now in the ‘fundamental discovery stage’ and a provisional patent has been filed. The team is now working with academic research groups in the US, Germany and Italy to understand the full extent of the compound’s reactivity and potential commercial applications.

‘We make new compounds all the time. However it’s rare to come up with a unique, useful compound from just three things that you can order from a catalogue,’ Martin added.

Development of processes and compounds across a number of areas will be discussed in-depth during the 39th SCI Process Development Symposium on 29th-30th March 2023 , held at Churchill College, Cambridge.

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