Homogeneous catalysis

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In chemistry, homogeneous catalysis is catalysis by a soluble catalyst in a solution. Homogeneous catalysis refers to reactions where the catalyst is in the same phase as the reactants, principally in solution. In contrast, heterogeneous catalysis describes processes where the catalysts and substrate are in distinct phases, typically solid-gas, respectively. [1] The term is used almost exclusively to describe solutions and implies catalysis by organometallic compounds. Homogeneous catalysis is established technology that continues to evolve. An illustrative major application is the production of acetic acid. Enzymes are examples of homogeneous catalysts. [2]



A constrained geometry complex. Such precatalysts are used for the production of polyolefins such as polyethylene and polypropylene. ConstrainedGeomCmpx.png
A constrained geometry complex. Such precatalysts are used for the production of polyolefins such as polyethylene and polypropylene.

Acid catalysis

The proton is a pervasive homogeneous catalyst [4] because water is the most common solvent. Water forms protons by the process of self-ionization of water. In an illustrative case, acids accelerate (catalyze) the hydrolysis of esters:


At neutral pH, aqueous solutions of most esters do not hydrolyze at practical rates.

Transition metal-catalysis

Mechanism for the hydrogenation of an alkene catalyzed by the homogeneous catalyst Wilkinson's catalyst. WilkinsonCycleJMBrown.png
Mechanism for the hydrogenation of an alkene catalyzed by the homogeneous catalyst Wilkinson's catalyst.
Hydrogenation and related reactions

A prominent class of reductive transformations are hydrogenations. In this process, H2 added to unsaturated substrates. A related methodology, transfer hydrogenation, involves by transfer of hydrogen from one substrate (the hydrogen donor) to another (the hydrogen acceptor). Related reactions entail "HX additions" where X = silyl (hydrosilylation) and CN (hydrocyanation). Most large-scale industrial hydrogenations – margarine, ammonia, benzene-to-cyclohexane – are conducted with heterogeneous catalysts. Fine chemical syntheses, however, often rely on homogeneous catalysts.


Hydroformylation, a prominent form of carbonylation, involves the addition of H and "C(O)H" across a double bond. This process is almost exclusively conducted with soluble rhodium- and cobalt-containing complexes. [5]

A related carbonylation is the conversion of alcohols to carboxylic acids. MeOH and CO react in the presence of homogeneous catalysts to give acetic acid, as practiced in the Monsanto process and Cativa processes. Related reactions include hydrocarboxylation and hydroesterifications.

Polymerization and metathesis of alkenes

A number of polyolefins, e.g. polyethylene and polypropylene, are produced from ethylene and propylene by Ziegler-Natta catalysis. Heterogeneous catalysts dominate, but many soluble catalysts are employed especially for stereospecific polymers. [6] Olefin metathesis is usually catalyzed heterogeneously in industry, but homogeneous variants are valuable in fine chemical synthesis. [7]


Homogeneous catalysts are also used in a variety of oxidations. Is the Wacker process, acetaldehyde is produced from ethene and oxygen. Many non-organometallic complexes are also widely used in catalysis, e.g. for the production of terephthalic acid from xylene. Alkenes are epoxidized and dihydroxylated by metal complexes, as illustrated by the Halcon process and the Sharpless dihydroxylation.

Enzymes (including metalloenzymes)

Enzymes are homogeneous catalysts that are essential for life but are also harnessed for industrial processes. A well-studied example is carbonic anhydrase, which catalyzes the release of CO2 into the lungs from the bloodstream. Enzymes possess properties of both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts. As such, they are usually regarded as a third, separate category of catalyst. Water is a common reagent in enzymatic catalysis. Esters and amides are slow to hydrolyze in neutral water, but the rates are sharply affected by metalloenzymes, which can be viewed as large coordination complexes. Acrylamide is prepared by the enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of acrylonitrile. [8] US demand for acrylamide was 253,000,000 pounds (115,000,000 kg) as of 2007.

Advantages and disadvantages



See also

Related Research Articles

Catalysis Process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction

Catalysis is the process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance known as a catalyst. Catalysts are not consumed in the reaction and remain unchanged after it. If the reaction is rapid and the catalyst recycles quickly, very small amounts of catalyst often suffice; mixing, surface area, and temperature are important factors in reaction rate. Catalysts generally react with one or more reactants to form intermediates that subsequently give the final reaction product, in the process regenerating the catalyst.

Carboxylic acid Organic compound

A carboxylic acid is an organic acid that contains a carboxyl group (C(=O)OH) attached to an R-group. The general formula of a carboxylic acid is R−COOH or R−CO2H, with R referring to the alkyl, alkenyl, aryl, or other group. Carboxylic acids occur widely. Important examples include the amino acids and fatty acids. Deprotonation of a carboxylic acid gives a carboxylate anion.

Organometallic chemistry Study of chemical compounds containing at least one bond between a carbon atom of an organic compound and a metal

Organometallic chemistry is the study of organometallic compounds, chemical compounds containing at least one chemical bond between a carbon atom of an organic molecule and a metal, including alkaline, alkaline earth, and transition metals, and sometimes broadened to include metalloids like boron, silicon, and selenium, as well. Aside from bonds to organyl fragments or molecules, bonds to 'inorganic' carbon, like carbon monoxide, cyanide, or carbide, are generally considered to be organometallic as well. Some related compounds such as transition metal hydrides and metal phosphine complexes are often included in discussions of organometallic compounds, though strictly speaking, they are not necessarily organometallic. The related but distinct term "metalorganic compound" refers to metal-containing compounds lacking direct metal-carbon bonds but which contain organic ligands. Metal β-diketonates, alkoxides, dialkylamides, and metal phosphine complexes are representative members of this class. The field of organometallic chemistry combines aspects of traditional inorganic and organic chemistry.

Hydrogenation Chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element

Hydrogenation is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen (H2) and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically constitutes the addition of pairs of hydrogen atoms to a molecule, often an alkene. Catalysts are required for the reaction to be usable; non-catalytic hydrogenation takes place only at very high temperatures. Hydrogenation reduces double and triple bonds in hydrocarbons.

Dehydrogenation is the chemical reaction that involves the removal of hydrogen, usually from an organic molecule. It is the reverse of hydrogenation. Dehydrogenation is important, both as a useful reaction and a serious problem. At its simplest, it is useful way of converting alkanes, which are relatively inert and thus low-valued, to olefins, which are reactive and thus more valuable. Alkenes are precursors to aldehydes, alcohols, polymers, and aromatics. As a problematic reaction, the fouling and inactivation of many catalysts arises via coking, which is the dehydrogenative polymerization of organic substrates.

Hydroformylation, also known as oxo synthesis or oxo process, is an industrial process for the production of aldehydes from alkenes. This chemical reaction entails the net addition of a formyl group (CHO) and a hydrogen atom to a carbon-carbon double bond. This process has undergone continuous growth since its invention: Production capacity reached 6.6×106 tons in 1995. It is important because aldehydes are easily converted into many secondary products. For example, the resulting aldehydes are hydrogenated to alcohols that are converted to detergents. Hydroformylation is also used in speciality chemicals, relevant to the organic synthesis of fragrances and drugs. The development of hydroformylation is one of the premier achievements of 20th-century industrial chemistry.

Grubbs catalyst Chemical compound

Grubbs catalysts are a series of transition metal carbene complexes used as catalysts for olefin metathesis. They are named after Robert H. Grubbs, the chemist who supervised their synthesis. Several generations of the catalyst have been developed. Grubbs catalysts tolerate many functional groups in the alkene substrates, are air-tolerant, and are compatible with a wide range of solvents. For these reasons, Grubbs catalysts have become popular in synthetic organic chemistry. Grubbs, together with Richard R. Schrock and Yves Chauvin, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of their contributions to the development of olefin metathesis.

Rhodium(III) chloride Chemical compound

Rhodium(III) chloride refers to inorganic compounds with the formula RhCl3(H2O)n, where n varies from 0 to 3. These are diamagnetic solids featuring octahedral Rh(III) centres. Depending on the value of n, the material is either a dense brown solid or a soluble reddish salt. The soluble trihydrated (n = 3) salt is widely used to prepare compounds used in homogeneous catalysis, notably for the industrial production of acetic acid and hydroformylation.

Nanomaterial-based catalysts are usually heterogeneous catalysts broken up into metal nanoparticles in order to enhance the catalytic process. Metal nanoparticles have high surface area, which can increase catalytic activity. Nanoparticle catalysts can be easily separated and recycled. They are typically used under mild conditions to prevent decomposition of the nanoparticles.

Phosphite ester

In chemistry a phosphite ester or organophosphite usually refers to an organophosphorous compound with the formula P(OR)3. They can be considered as esters of an unobserved tautomer phosphorous acid, H3PO3, with the simplest example being trimethylphosphite, P(OCH3)3. Some phosphites can be considered esters of the dominant tautomer of phosphorous acid (HP(O)(OH)2). The simplest representative is dimethylphosphite with the formula HP(O)(OCH3)2. Both classes of phosphites are usually colorless liquids.

Hydrosilylation, also called catalytic hydrosilation, describes the addition of Si-H bonds across unsaturated bonds. Ordinarily the reaction is conducted catalytically and usually the substrates are unsaturated organic compounds. Alkenes and alkynes give alkyl and vinyl silanes; aldehydes and ketones give silyl ethers. Hydrosilylation has been called the "most important application of platinum in homogeneous catalysis."

Jean-Marie Basset French chemist

Jean-Marie Basset is a French chemist, and is currently the director of KAUST catalysis research center.

Carbonylation refers to reactions that introduce carbon monoxide into organic and inorganic substrates. Carbon monoxide is abundantly available and conveniently reactive, so it is widely used as a reactant in industrial chemistry. The term carbonylation also refers to oxidation of protein side chains.

A migratory insertion is a type of reaction in organometallic chemistry wherein two ligands on a metal complex combine. It is a subset of reactions that very closely resembles the insertion reactions, and both are differentiated by the mechanism that leads to the resulting stereochemistry of the products. However, often the two are used interchangeably because the mechanism is sometimes unknown. Therefore, migratory insertion reactions or insertion reactions, for short, are defined not by the mechanism but by the overall regiochemistry wherein one chemical entity interposes itself into an existing bond of typically a second chemical entity e.g.:

TPPTS Chemical compound

3,3′,3′′-Phosphanetriyltris(benzenesulfonic acid) trisodium salt (abbreviated TPPTS), is an organic compound that is also known as sodium triphenylphosphine trisulfonate. The compound has the formula P(C6H4SO3Na)3. This white solid is an unusual example of a water-soluble phosphine. Its complexes are also water-soluble. Its complex with rhodium is used in the industrial production of butyraldehyde.

Concurrent tandem catalysis

Concurrent tandem catalysis (CTC) is a technique in chemistry where multiple catalysts produce a product otherwise not accessible by a single catalyst. It is usually practiced as homogeneous catalysis. Scheme 1 illustrates this process. Molecule A enters this catalytic system to produce the comonomer, B, which along with A enters the next catalytic process to produce the final product, P. This one-pot approach can decrease product loss from isolation or purification of intermediates. Reactions with relatively unstable products can be generated as intermediates because they are only transient species and are immediately used in a consecutive reaction.

Organocobalt chemistry Chemistry of compounds with a carbon to cobalt bond

Organocobalt chemistry is the chemistry of organometallic compounds containing a carbon to cobalt chemical bond. Organocobalt compounds are involved in several organic reactions and the important biomolecule vitamin B12 has a cobalt-carbon bond. Many organocobalt compounds exhibit useful catalytic properties, the preeminent example being dicobalt octacarbonyl.

Organorhodium chemistry

Organorhodium chemistry is the chemistry of organometallic compounds containing a rhodium-carbon chemical bond, and the study of rhodium and rhodium compounds as catalysts in organic reactions.

An insertion reaction is a chemical reaction where one chemical entity interposes itself into an existing bond of typically a second chemical entity e.g.:

Clark Landis is an American chemist, whose research focuses on organic and inorganic chemistry. He is currently a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was awarded the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry in 2010, and is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


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