A synthetic catalyst that mimics the chemical scissors at the heart of bacterial methane digestion can snap strong carbon–hydrogen bonds.
Previous attempts to copy the natural catalyst, which relies on a pair of iron atoms for its activity, produced catalysts that could only tackle relatively weak C–H bonds. The latest version, from Eckard Münck at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues, works thousands of times faster and breaks the toughest of C–H bonds, such as those in cyclohexane. It picks up electrons supplied by an electric current, and delivers them to the bond to prise the carbon and hydrogen atoms apart.
Although the synthetic di-iron catalyst does not match that of bacteria for speed, it goes one better by being able to break even stronger oxygen–hydrogen bonds.