Sustainable chemical approaches to the production of new and existing chemical products and materials is of crucial importance world-wide over the next decades. At UCL we are pioneering novel green synthetic strategies for molecular assembly and materials construction. Here, the incorporation of renewable feedstocks into our synthetic methodologies is also of high priority. Other activities includes establishing processes for plastics molecular recycling. We are also exploring sustainable approaches for energy storage, through developing and improving the design of batteries and other devices, with a strong focus on clean electrode materials synthesis and sustainable electrolytes.
Research Theme Sub-Groups
- New sustainable synthetic methods
In the Department of Chemistry we have many activities focussed on generating cleaner, more sustainable synthetic strategies and green catalysts. These include the development of organic reactions without the use of toxic reagents, protecting groups or solvents, such as organic reactions in green solvents (T. Sheppard, H. Hailes), new amide coupling methods (T. Sheppard) and the design and use of biological catalysts which can confer exquisite reaction selectivities (H. Hailes, J. Ward). Here, the combination of enzyme steps into biocatalytic cascades and synthetic biology pathways has proven to be a particularly powerful strategy. Also, solvent-free, high-yielding procedures for the synthesis of materials using mechanochemistry is a key expanding activity (K.Bucar). Electrochemically-mediated synthesis is an important area including the generation of homogenous catalysts and organic radical reactions without tin reagents and electrochemical iodocyclisation (J. Wilden, K. Holt) as well as trifluoromethylation (M. Porter). In a further activity air is being exploited in radical-mediated reactions (V. Chudasama). Other electrocatalytic reactions are being used in CO2 reduction to produce fuels and chemicals (K. Holt, G. Sankar). Green chemical oxidants are being explored for selective oxidation of organic compounds through heterogeneous catalysis, as well as routes for solvent-free catalysis (G. Sankar).
Chemical cascades in water for the synthesis of functionalized aromatics from furfurals
The identification and use of robust transaminases from a domestic drain metagenome
- Molecular recycling and exploiting renewable feedstocks
With the ‘Plastic Waste Innovation Hub’ and a multidisciplinary team of experts from across UCL, we are working to create and test new interventions in eliminating plastic waste and are working with professionals across the sector. In one activity, as well as the use of enzymes for synthetic applications, we are investigating the discovery and use of enzymes for the degradation of plastics and other waste materials for molecular recycling (H. Hailes, J. Ward, T. Sheppard).
Renewable feedstocks are also being explored by several groups, such as sustainable carbons for electrodes (Y. Xu), the use of waste sugars for the synthesis of small chiral synthons or polymer precursors and the degradation of lignin (T. Sheppard, H. Hailes) and synthesis of functional nano materials using bio-compatible and sustainable plant extracts (G. Sankar).
Furfurylamines from biomass: transaminase catalysed upgrading of furfurals
- Sustainable Approaches for Energy Storage
To ensure effective exploitation of intermittent renewable energy sources (wind, solar) new approaches for energy storage are key. This requires design and optimisation of new beyond-Li-ion batteries including Na-ion/K-ion batteries and multivalent ion batteries (Y. Xu, J. Darr). At UCL Chemistry we pioneer clean routes for large scale synthesis of electrode materials using continuous flow hydrothermal synthesis (J. Darr) and emphasise the development of sustainable aqueous electrolytes (K. Holt, Y. Xu).
We are also developing analytical methods to better understand energy storage mechanisms and materials behaviour. These include spectroelectrochemical methods for the study of energy storage interfaces (K. Holt, T.Clarke) and in situ XAS for the study of catalyst stability (K. Holt, G.Sankar). In partnership with Harwell, X-ray diffraction tomography has been used to study in operando changes in crystallinity of battery electrode materials (A. Beale).