Research Highlights

Improving a common chemical reaction using metal nanoparticles

Published online 17 October 2017

A new experiment uses a non-precious metal nanoparticle catalyst to create amine-based compounds.

Sara Osman

A team of researchers discovered a new method to sustainably and selectively catalyze the production of amine-containing compounds using cobalt nanoparticles. 

Amines are common nitrogen-containing chemical groups found in a variety of compounds from industrial chemicals to pharmaceuticals, making their efficient chemical synthesis a relevant theme in chemical research. 

Previously, precious metals or raney nickel were used as catalysts — they’re not only expensive, but also often not selective. 

The team, a collaboration between researchers from Germany and Saudi Arabia, showed that cobalt nanoparticles can be used to selectively catalyze the synthesis of amines from carbonyls, even from structurally complex reactants, publishing their results in Science.1

The high selectivity of their catalyst owes to its manufacturing process in which metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) — networks where metal centers are linked together by organic chains — were used as precursors to the nanoparticle formation. 

The popularity of MOFs in catalysis research is on the rise, since they allow the rational fine-tuning of catalytic properties and selectivity of materials by controlling the nature of the metal centers, and the length of the organic linkers. 

The team used MOFs as a template to imprint cobalt on the surface of a graphite nanoparticle in the precise spacing afforded by the MOF.

They went on to test the activity of their nanoparticles, and demonstrated the successful amine formation in a plethora of compounds such as complex drug molecules and steroid and amino acid derivatives. 

Moreover, the nanoparticles were easy to separate from the product and can be recycled up to six times without losing activity. 


  1. Jadadeesh, R. V. et al. MOF-derived cobalt nanoparticles catalyze a general synthesis of amines. Science (2017)