All-in-one Photocatalyst

Photocatalytic synthesis of organic molecules becomes modular. This time mesoporous graphitic carbon nitride (mpg-CN) juggles many functional groups and adds few functionalities to the molecule at once.

Sep 10, 2019
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I was a thirteen years old kid when I got this weird gift. I have never been a fan of big birthday parties and gifts. Therefore, when my classmate approached me and in a roundabout way asked me what I would like to get for my upcoming birthday, I replied: “It is up to you.” A week later, I regretted that I did not give a specific answer. How surprised was I when I tore packaging paper and saw this comic-gift – a multifunctional 50-in-one Swiss army knife. Of course, it had a knife, actually several knives, a small screw driver, scissors, a key ring, tweezers and forty more tools that one could have ever imagined. It was perfect, except one thing. It was totally useless. I simply could not hold it comfortably in my hands, not talking about to use it.

That story taught me few things. First, more is not always good. Second, perfection is in simplicity. And finally, when a friend asks what kind of gift you want for birthday, you better tell him clearly what you want. Otherwise, you can get a 50-in-one Swiss army knife.

Having been working in the field of photocatalysis for the last several years, my dream team of chemists from Innovative Heterogeneous Photocatalysis and I try to make photocatalysis simpler. Recently, we developed a mesoporous graphitic carbon nitride (mpg-CN) material for synthesis of organic molecules under visible light irradiation. In this project we cooperate with the group of Prof. Burkhard König from Regensburg University. Dr. Indrajit Ghosh and Dr. Jagadish Khamrai found that mpg-CN enables not one and not two, but at least 12 (twelve!) chemical reactions. Among them are halogenation, cyanation, thiocyanation, di- and trifluoromethylation, alkylation and in general sp2-sp3 couplings. mpg-CN also enables bi-C-H-functionalization of aromatic and heteroaromatic compounds in one pot simply adding reagents one after another. These results make mpg-CN 'all-in-one’ photocatalyst.

What is common between mpg-CN and 50-in-one Swiss army knife? Functionality. However, unlike to the gift from my school time, which purpose was to amuse and give a shock only, mpg-CN is in fact functional. It is chemically stable, resistant against photobleaching when exposed to light of high intensity, it is affordable on gram scale via straightforward ‘mix-and-bake’ technique, and it is recyclable. All these features make mpg-CN, and carbon nitrides in general, versatile photocatalysts for a plethora of chemical transformations.

It does not mean that being a 13 years old kid I would ask a friend for a jar of carbon nitride, but being a 30 years old chemist I definitely prefer simplicity and functionality over complexity. Are you interested to know details about organic photocatalysis with mpg-CN? Then check out our paper in Science!

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Aleksandr Savateev

Group leader, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

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