A newly created iron compound can be used to rapidly break strong carbon-hydrogen bonds within molecules, up to 1,000 times faster than previous methods. The research, published online in Nature Chemistry this week, could solve what has been a great challenge for chemists, and is particularly important in the industrial conversion of petroleum from its constituent compounds into more valuable products. Copying nature in this way also adds to the understanding of how enzyme active-sites work.
Larry Que and co-workers took their inspiration from the enzyme that performs this task in nature, which, although not yet fully understood, is believed to contain two iron atoms bridged by two oxygen atoms. Although two other similarly oxygen-bridged iron compounds have been made in the past, neither performs very effectively. The new compound has ligands that grab onto the iron atoms with four nitrogen-prongs and, in a first for iron complexes, can also attack strong oxygen?hydrogen bonds in small alcohol molecules.