ICCC38: Coordination chemistry

Shalom from Jerusalem, where I’m attending the 38th International Conference on Coordination Chemistry (or ICCC38 as it is thankfully abbreviated to).

The conference has only been going for a day, but here’s a thought to keep you going: ENERGY.

Quite a big and important thought, but fortunately for the world, some of the world’s top chemists are thinking about it pretty deeply. In yesterday’s opening plenary lecture, Harry Gray of Caltech talked about his search to find cheaper alternatives to ruthenium-based dye-senstized solar cells. Ending on positive note, he told us he had secured funding for a project involving about 20-30 institutions across America (and BP in the UK). Even more positively, he then told all the young chemists in the audience to go out and make sure that in the future we can make everything we need from nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen and sea-water, using solar power.

And Richard Schrock of MIT (didn’t he win a prize a few years ago…?) finished today by discussing his long-standing battle to make a catalyst that can convert nitrogen to ammonia. But what’s that got to do with energy, I hear you ask. Well, the Haber-Bosch process, developed almost 100 years ago and still used to create a staggering 100 million tons of ammonia a year today, consumes a whopping 1.4% of the world’s energy. He isn’t quite there yet, because the reaction is barely stoichiometric let alone catalytic. But he’s working on it and left the audience thinking on the problems he (or rather his ligands) needs to overcome. Oh, and that’s before you get the necessary hydrogen from splitting water with sunlight…

Don’t hold your breath, but we might get there in the end.


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)