Reinventing the way chemicals are made to make them cheaper and cleaner

Whether its a new drug, a new fertilizer or a new solar panel, chemists have been stuck using the same methods to make their inventions. Now, the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, run by Emory University organic chemist Huw Davies, is breaking the mold.

“It is an entirely different way of putting molecules together,” Davies said. “And that means it allows you ready access to compounds that have either never been made before, or that were impractical to be made by the conventional methods.”

This international collaboration of scientists is redesigning how organic chemicals are made. Every organic chemical has a basic framework made up of carbon and hydrogen. When chemists make new drugs, for example, they build on those existing frameworks.

But what if you could break open that framework? You could build new chemical structures into the framework, Davies said, opening up new possibilities for drugs and other organic chemicals.

It will also make some chemicals cleaner and cheaper to make, said Daniel Morton, managing director of the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. By changing how chemicals are made, scientists can eliminate toxic byproducts and waste.

“I think in every field of science one of the biggest drives in the last 20 years has been how to do things in a cleaner, more effective and efficient fashion,” he said. “And that’s what this center is all about.”

Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.