Potential energy saving solution for making vital chemicals


Published: 17Apr2020

Researchers at McGill University have discovered a new, energy-efficient way to make key ingredients for the production of pharmaceuticals, polymers and fine chemicals.

In findings published in Science in April 2020, the McGill chemists demonstrated the use of visible light to drive a palladium-catalyzed carbonylation reaction to produce acid chlorides, an important building block in the synthesis of esters, amides and ketones. To work well, catalytic processes of this kind typically require heating to high temperatures; when performed on an industrial scale, that means they consume large amounts of energy and make a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, the McGill team showed that they could achieve good results at ambient temperatures by running the reactions under blue light from a commonly available set of decorative LED lights.

Their work represents an advance on previous research because they were able to show that light could drive the entire reaction process, not just parts of it. To their surprise, they found that this form of light-driven catalysis worked even without the addition of a costly iridium-based photocatalyst.

“We are very excited to see if this principle can be applied more broadly in catalysis as a route to address some of the challenges in important classes of catalytic synthesis,” said McGill chemistry professor Bruce Arndtsen, senior author of the study.

About the study

“A dual light-driven palladium catalyst: Breaking the barriers in carbonylation reactions” by Gerardo M. Torres, Yi Liu and Bruce A. Arndtsen was published in Science.


Contact Information

Fergus Grieve
McGill University
fergus.grieve [at]
Office Phone: 
514-398-4400 x 09513
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