Richard Compton Tim Donohoe

Electrochemistry can offer a clean and efficient method for the selective oxidation or reduction of organic molecules and can accomplish transformations that are quite different from those realized by chemical reagents. Moreover the use of electricity means that the use of environmentally undesirable redox species based on Cr, Os, Mn, etc is avoided; it is green as well as powerful. Industrial applications of electro-organic synthesis are increasingly appealing but only a few are well-established, the most notable being the Monsanto synthesis of nylon-66. At the same time of course the huge commercial use of electrolysis in the formation of chlorine, sodium hydroxide and aluminium is noteworthy.

Despite the clear benefits of electrochemical synthesis it is our view that the potential benefits in sectors such as the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and fine chemical sectors of the chemical industry have yet to be remotely realized. Discussions with industrialists, and our own insights, suggest that the major inhibiting factor for the companies wishing to explore electrochemical synthetic methods is the lack of expertise and knowledge within their research personnel who are typically trained synthetic chemists but who lack the background, expertise or confidence to start using electrochemical methodology from scratch.

We have been successfully collaborating in the area of organic electrochemical synthesis for some years and the outputs of this research are summarized elsewhere on this site. In the course of our work we have jointly developed the skills recognized as essential to initiate electrochemical projects but largely absent in the chemical industry. We are interested in synergistically collaborating with the latter to take on board the investigation and partial scale-up of electrochemical transformations and developing projects supported and funded by the sector. Please get in contact if you wish to explore possibilities!

Tim Donohoe and Richard Compton
Our work outlines the development and exploitation of the collaboration between synthetic organic chemistry and electrochemistry. The resulting alliance is potentially very powerful in that it allows the preparation of valuable organic molecules via a unique method that is both very selective and also environmentally benign. Our unique selling point centres on the expertise and knowledge that has arisen from a long-lasting and successful collaboration together with a realisation that the chemicals industry has many problems that could be solved by such technology.

For example, we have already shown that many organic reduction reactions (such as the low temperature reduction of arenes and reductive cleavage reactions) are viable on a small scale using electrochemistry, and efforts are being made to increase the amount of material that can be processed. Our future goals are to develop new reactions and directions for synthetic electrochemistry, and especially to explore the full range of oxidation reactions (e.g. halogenation, nitration and aromatic aminations) that are synthetically useful.

Department of Chemistry,
Chemistry Research Laboratory,
12 Mansfield Road,

Tel: +44 (0) 1865 285006
Fax: +44 (0) 1865 275674

Website written by Ian Cutress, © 2010
Content by Richard Compton, Tim Donohoe and Christian Winter.