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Synergistic active sites observed in a solid catalyst
A solid catalyst has been prepared in which pairs of active sites work synergistically to promote an industrial chemical reaction, and the mechanism has been determined — a breakthrough for ‘pair site’ catalysis.
More than 80% of globally produced chemicals are made using solid catalysts1, which are easy to separate from products formed in fluid states — a key practical advantage that lowers manufacturing costs. The improvement in solid catalysts (known in the field as heterogeneous catalysts) is therefore a dominant theme in academic and industrial-chemistry research. However, some important industrial processes still use soluble (homogeneous) catalysts, because the best available heterogeneous catalysts do not promote the formation of the desired products with sufficiently high selectivity for commercial applications2. Writing in Nature, Ro et al.3 report a solid catalyst that might change this situation for a widely used industrial process: the reaction of ethylene (CH2=CH2) with hydrogen and carbon monoxide to produce propanal (CH3CH2CHO), a process known as hydroformylation. More broadly, the findings herald a new era of research into a class of heterogeneous catalysts known as pair-site catalysts, in which different active sites work together synergistically.