Applied Homogeneous Catalysis

Prof. Dr. Matthias Beller

In our department we investigate important aspects of homogeneous catalysis, especially of transition metal-catalysts. Fundamental strategic aims of our research are the development of new, environmentally benign catalysts and synthetic protocols as well as their application in industry. The transfer of results from model studies and mechanistic investigations to specific chemical products or processes is a particularly important aspect here.  

The main focus of our research is on the topics: "palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions of aryl halides", "(enantio)selective oxidations", "application of catalysts for the synthesis of biologically active agents" as well as "catalytic carbonylations". Within the first topic we work on methodical investigations into catalytic functionalization reactions of aryl halides – especially of economical chloroarenes and bromoarenes - and arenes in relation to aromatic amines, arylated olefins, benzaldehydes, benzoic acid derivatives, benzonitriles etc. During the last years we have developed several metal complexes and ligands (e.g. palladacycles, adamantylphosphines, arylheteroarylphosphines), which are applied by other research groups as well as being used in technical projects. Apart from the improvement of catalysts we have also advanced development of the methods used. For example we have established potassium hexacyanoferrate(II) as a non-toxic and environmentally benign cyanation reagent.

Metal complex-catalyzed oxidation reactions are in quantitatively terms the most important homogeneously catalyzed reactions in the chemical industry. For a sustainable development of chemical processes the utilization of environmentally benign and economic oxidants is the primary aim of our research efforts. Thus, we focus on the development of catalytic oxidation reactions with molecular oxygen or hydrogen peroxide as oxidant. In the past we developed the first osmium-catalyzed dihydroxylation with air. Notably, in this reaction both oxygen atoms are incorporated productively into the oxidation products (prior to this, there had only been very few examples worldwide describing this kind of reaction by oxygen). Currently and in the future, we are working on catalytic epoxidations with iron-catalysts in the presence of hydrogen peroxide as well as on oxidation reactions of alcohols, both synthetic methods of great potential. Our latest work on Fe-systems is also relevant for biological oxidation processes.

In order to utilize catalytic reactions for the synthesis of new active agents we are working, in particular, both on the regioselective addition of amines to double bonds and on carbonylation reactions. Here, we achieved the first transition metal-catalyzed anti-Markovnikov amination of alkynes and styrenes. In recent results (since 2004) we are increasingly concerning ourselves with catalytic syntheses of indole derivatives. In cooperation with pharmaceuticals companies, we are aiming at the development of new analgetics, anti-Alzheimer drugs and kinase inhibitors.

The "carbonylation reactions" group is working on the development of atom-efficient multicomponent reactions for ß-amino acid derivatives and on palladium-catalyzed carbonylations of aryl halides. In a basic research project we have developed catalysts for the reductive carbonylation of aryl halides; these are now being used for first technical applications on a >1000 kg scale for the synthesis of pharma intermediates. Other carbonylation reactions involving collaboration with industry include hydroformylation reactions of large-scale olefin mixtures. We were able to show at the conceptual level that these olefin mixtures can be converted selectively to form one desired product. This work was published and highlighted "Science".