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Amines built using cobalt nanoparticles

MOF-derived catalyst enables heterogeneous reductive aminations without precious metals

by Bethany Halford
September 25, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 38

A reaction scheme shows the synthesis of amphetamine via a cobalt-catalyzed amination.

Amine-containing compounds bear a nitrogen atom that’s ready to interact with proteins thanks to its lone pair of electrons; these molecules often have desirable biological properties. One of the most popular methods for making primary amines involves coupling ammonia and an aldehyde or ketone in a reductive amination reaction. The downside of this transformation is that it usually requires a precious-metal catalyst. Chemists led by Matthias Beller of the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis have now created a non-precious-metal catalyst that can make primary, secondary, tertiary, and N-methylamines via reductive amination. The catalyst consists of cobalt nanoparticles encased in a carbon shell (Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6245). Beller and colleagues make the nanoparticles by assembling a cobalt-diamine-dicarboxylic acid metal-organic framework on a carbon template and then heating this assembly to 800 °C. The chemists used the catalyst nanoparticles to make more than 140 amines, including several pharmaceutical compounds such as the stimulant amphetamine. Furthermore, they show that reactions with the catalyst can be scaled to 50 g without loss of yield and that the catalyst nanoparticles can be recycled up to six times.


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