Single-step solution

New reaction can simplify phenols’ production, cut costs

By Pranav Dadhich
Published: Saturday 31 August 2013

PHENOLS are important industrial raw materials. They are used in the production of everything from dyes, drugs, and pesticides to sunscreens, hair dyes, and perfumes. Creating a phenol seems simple—you just need to replace a hydrogen molecule in an aromatic hydrocarbon with an oxygen molecule. But the process is expensive and cumbersome and requires a number of reactions.

Researchers at University of Texas, Austin, have developed a reaction to reduce the steps required to make a phenol and lower the cost of innumerable items ranging from agricultural chemicals to pharmaceutical drugs. “The synthetic method provides direct access to phenols from aromatic hydrocarbons, reducing the number of chemical transformations needed thus reducing waste and cost,” says Dionicio Siegel, co-author of the study,.

The new reaction, elaborated in a study published in Nature on July 11, involves a compound called phthaloyl peroxide. The chemical was studied in late 1950’s and 60’s but was ignored after that. “I am not sure why it was ignored; perhaps because the compound has not been commercially available, so only minimal research was conducted,” says Siegel. The advantage of using phthaloyl peroxide is that it can add oxygen to a wide variety of starting materials and the reaction does not need acids or catalysts anymore.

The compound has other applications as well, like creating drug metabolites. The interest lies in accounting for possible by-products the newly developed drugs could leave behind in the body and also how these by-products react in the body because metabolites that do not react can prove harmful. Phthaloyl peroxide can render such non-reactive metabolites harmless.

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