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Green Chemistry

Chemistry has always had a central role in the provision of food and energy, materials and medicines. Recent years have increasingly seen chemistry research move towards environmentally friendly, sustainable products and processes, and the focus of the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Green chemistry is the development of sustainable means for the provision of food, energy and water. 

This Collection features selected Green Chemistry content published in the Nature family of journals. These research, review, comment and protocol articles have been sorted into four categories:

Water splitting includes articles related to artificial photosynthesis, or electrochemical reactions of water. More content on this topic can be found in the related collections Electrocatalysis for fuels and Chemistry at the nexus of water and energy.

Carbon dioxide collects articles that involve the trapping and downstream reactions of carbon dioxide.

Biomass utilisation covers the conversion of biomass to fuels and other value-added products.

Greener synthesis articles describe developments aimed at making chemical reactions more environmentally friendly, both in terms of the processes and the safety of the products. A full list of related articles published across can be found on the Green Chemistry subject page.

The section on Cleaner water contains articles relating to harvesting, desalination and disinfection of water.

Water splitting

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    A major challenge facing solar-to-fuel technologies is the integration of light-absorbing and catalytic components into efficient water-splitting devices. Here, the authors construct a photochemical diode array to harvest visible light and split pure water at high solar-to-hydrogen efficiencies.

    • Faqrul A. Chowdhury
    • , Michel L. Trudeau
    • , Hong Guo
    •  &  Zetian Mi
  • Nature Chemistry | Article

    Electrochemical water oxidation in acidic media is a promising water-splitting technique, but typically requires noble metal catalysts. Now, two polyoxometalate salts based on earth-abundant metals have shown excellent catalytic performance for the oxygen evolution reaction. The barium salt of a cobalt-phosphotungstate polyanion outperformed the state-of-the-art IrO2 catalyst at pHs lower than 1.

    • Marta Blasco-Ahicart
    • , Joaquín Soriano-López
    • , Jorge J. Carbó
    • , Josep M. Poblet
    •  &  J. R. Galan-Mascaros
  • Nature Catalysis | Article

    The generation of hydrogen fuel from water and visible light requires photoelectrodes that are inexpensive, stable and highly active. Now, Luo, Grätzel and co-workers report Cu2O photocathodes that reach these goals. Incorporation into an unassisted solar water splitting device gives ~3% solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency.

    • Linfeng Pan
    • , Jin Hyun Kim
    • , Matthew T. Mayer
    • , Min-Kyu Son
    • , Amita Ummadisingu
    • , Jae Sung Lee
    • , Anders Hagfeldt
    • , Jingshan Luo
    •  &  Michael Grätzel
  • Nature Energy | Article

    Electrocatalytic water splitting to produce H2 is impeded by slow reaction kinetics over noble-metal-free catalysts at the electrodes. Here, the authors use high-frequency alternating magnetic fields to locally heat FeC–Ni core–shell catalysts, enhancing the kinetics of the oxygen and hydrogen evolution reactions.

    • Christiane Niether
    • , Stéphane Faure
    • , Alexis Bordet
    • , Jonathan Deseure
    • , Marian Chatenet
    • , Julian Carrey
    • , Bruno Chaudret
    •  &  Alain Rouet
  • Nature Catalysis | Article

    Morphological changes in catalyst structure are known to occur during electrocatalysis, and understanding such changes is important to gain insight into the catalytic process. Now, in the case of iridium oxide, these surface changes are probed in atomic-scale detail during the oxygen evolution reaction, and correlated with activity and stability.

    • T. Li
    • , O. Kasian
    • , S. Cherevko
    • , S. Zhang
    • , S. Geiger
    • , C. Scheu
    • , P. Felfer
    • , D. Raabe
    • , B. Gault
    •  &  K. J. J. Mayrhofer

Carbon dioxide

  • Nature Chemistry | Article

    Although the synthetic chemistry of carbon dioxide has generally been limited to two-electron pathways, single-electron mechanisms would open avenues to new reactivity. Now, the coupling of carbon dioxide and amines to produce α-amino acids can be achieved by an organic photoredox catalyst in continuous flow.

    • Hyowon Seo
    • , Matthew H. Katcher
    •  &  Timothy F. Jamison
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The electroreduction of carbon dioxide to liquid products provides an appealing method to convert atmospheric carbon into valuable fuels. Here, the authors perform a topotactic transformation of bismuth oxyiodide to bismuth nanosheets that act as highly selective CO2-to-formate electrocatalysts.

    • Na Han
    • , Yu Wang
    • , Hui Yang
    • , Jun Deng
    • , Jinghua Wu
    • , Yafei Li
    •  &  Yanguang Li
  • Communications Chemistry | Article | open

    The conversion of carbon dioxide into valuable commodity chemicals is a promising approach to exploit anthropogenic emissions. Here, the authors use carbon-supported iron combined with alkali promoters derived from biomass to convert carbon dioxide directly to heavy linear terminal olefins.

    • Lisheng Guo
    • , Jian Sun
    • , Xuewei Ji
    • , Jian Wei
    • , Zhiyong Wen
    • , Ruwei Yao
    • , Hengyong Xu
    •  &  Qingjie Ge
  • Nature Catalysis | Review Article

    CO is a vital building block in organic synthesis but, due to its toxicity, storage and transport can be problematic. This review focuses on the methods — both chemical and electrochemical — for the in situ generation of CO from CO2, and its subsequent incorporation into chemicals through catalytic means.

    • Dennis U. Nielsen
    • , Xin-Ming Hu
    • , Kim Daasbjerg
    •  &  Troels Skrydstrup
  • Nature Catalysis | Article

    The conversion of carbon dioxide into multi-carbon alcohols would enable the synthesis of sustainable liquid fuels with high energy densities. Now, vacancy-engineered core–shell copper-based catalysts are able to shift the selectivity of electrochemical CO2 reduction into alcohols instead of alkenes, as obtained with bare-copper catalysts.

    • Tao-Tao Zhuang
    • , Zhi-Qin Liang
    • , Ali Seifitokaldani
    • , Yi Li
    • , Phil De Luna
    • , Thomas Burdyny
    • , Fanglin Che
    • , Fei Meng
    • , Yimeng Min
    • , Rafael Quintero-Bermudez
    • , Cao Thang Dinh
    • , Yuanjie Pang
    • , Miao Zhong
    • , Bo Zhang
    • , Jun Li
    • , Pei-Ning Chen
    • , Xue-Li Zheng
    • , Hongyan Liang
    • , Wen-Na Ge
    • , Bang-Jiao Ye
    • , David Sinton
    • , Shu-Hong Yu
    •  &  Edward H. Sargent
  • Nature Catalysis | Article

    The Fe protein of nitrogenase contains a redox-active [Fe4S4] cluster that plays a key role in electron transfer and substrate reduction. Here, Hu and co-workers show that the Fe protein of Methanosarcina acetivorans can reduce CO2 and CO to hydrocarbons under ambient conditions.

    • Martin T. Stiebritz
    • , Caleb J. Hiller
    • , Nathaniel S. Sickerman
    • , Chi Chung Lee
    • , Kazuki Tanifuji
    • , Yasuhiro Ohki
    •  &  Yilin Hu

Biomass utilisation

  • Nature Energy | Article

    Photoreforming can produce H2 through the simultaneous reduction of water and the oxidation of organic molecules, such as those derived from biomass, but cheaper and more active photocatalysts are required. This study shows that CdS/CdOx produces H2 from unprocessed lignocellulose suspensions at high rates under solar illumination.

    • David W. Wakerley
    • , Moritz F. Kuehnel
    • , Katherine L. Orchard
    • , Khoa H. Ly
    • , Timothy E. Rosser
    •  &  Erwin Reisner
  • Nature Reviews Chemistry | Comment

    A bioeconomy — that is, an economy in which fuels, chemicals and other products are sourced from biomass — can contribute to a sustainable and prosperous future. Realizing a bioeconomy will necessitate new methods for processing the complex structure of biomass to produce commodity chemicals. Many exciting opportunities are availing themselves to chemists brave enough to tackle this challenging problem.

    • Nichole D. Fitzgerald
  • Nature Biotechnology | Article

    Engineered switchgrass and poplar are better feedstocks for biofuel synthesis and yield more biomass in multi-year field trials.

    • Ajaya K Biswal
    • , Melani A Atmodjo
    • , Mi Li
    • , Holly L Baxter
    • , Chang Geun Yoo
    • , Yunqiao Pu
    • , Yi-Ching Lee
    • , Mitra Mazarei
    • , Ian M Black
    • , Ji-Yi Zhang
    • , Hema Ramanna
    • , Adam L Bray
    • , Zachary R King
    • , Peter R LaFayette
    • , Sivakumar Pattathil
    • , Bryon S Donohoe
    • , Sushree S Mohanty
    • , David Ryno
    • , Kelsey Yee
    • , Olivia A Thompson
    • , Miguel Rodriguez Jr.
    • , Alexandru Dumitrache
    • , Jace Natzke
    • , Kim Winkeler
    • , Cassandra Collins
    • , Xiaohan Yang
    • , Li Tan
    • , Robert W Sykes
    • , Erica L Gjersing
    • , Angela Ziebell
    • , Geoffrey B Turner
    • , Stephen R Decker
    • , Michael G Hahn
    • , Brian H Davison
    • , Michael K Udvardi
    • , Jonathan R Mielenz
    • , Mark F Davis
    • , Richard S Nelson
    • , Wayne A Parrott
    • , Arthur J Ragauskas
    • , C Neal Stewart Jr
    •  &  Debra Mohnen
  • Nature Protocols | Protocol

    There is a growing demand for renewable transportation fuels. This protocol describesthe production of an acetone-butanol-ethanol mixture in Clostridiumacetobutylicum as well as its reaction to form long-chain ketones for testing as car or jet fuel.

    • Sanil Sreekumar
    • , Zachary C Baer
    • , Anbarasan Pazhamalai
    • , Gorkem Gunbas
    • , Adam Grippo
    • , Harvey W Blanch
    • , Douglas S Clark
    •  &  F Dean Toste
  • Nature Catalysis | Article

    Access to renewable hydrogen represents an important target for the success of the hydrogen economy. Now, a one-pot method is presented for the conversion of cellulosic biomass into hydrogen via formic acid as the intermediate, followed by its application to a fuel cell.

    • Ping Zhang
    • , Yan-Jun Guo
    • , Jianbin Chen
    • , Yu-Rou Zhao
    • , Jun Chang
    • , Henrik Junge
    • , Matthias Beller
    •  &  Yang Li

Greener synthesis

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Graphene oxide is a graphene derivative showing wide applications, but it suffers from harsh synthetic conditions and long reaction time. Pei et al. show a green electrochemical method to fully oxidize the graphite lattice in a few seconds, which is over 100 times faster than existing methods.

    • Songfeng Pei
    • , Qinwei Wei
    • , Kun Huang
    • , Hui-Ming Cheng
    •  &  Wencai Ren
  • Nature Reviews Chemistry | Review Article

    A move away from fossil fuels as an energy source will also require a move to new sources for important chemical feedstocks. This Review considers the use of homogeneous catalysis to convert cellulosics into low-volume, high-value chemicals that are currently derived from crude oil.

    • Trandon A. Bender
    • , Jennifer A. Dabrowski
    •  &  Michel R. Gagné
  • Nature Protocols | Protocol

    Nanocatalysts made up of Co3O4 surrounded by nitrogen-doped graphene layers are excellent activators of H2 and O2 for the hydrogenation and oxidation of organic compounds. They are environmentally benign, as water is the only reaction by-product.

    • Rajenahally V Jagadeesh
    • , Tobias Stemmler
    • , Annette-Enrica Surkus
    • , Matthias Bauer
    • , Marga-Martina Pohl
    • , Jörg Radnik
    • , Kathrin Junge
    • , Henrik Junge
    • , Angelika Brückner
    •  &  Matthias Beller
  • Nature Chemistry | Article

    As a consequence of high chemical resistance and low solubility in conventional solvents, deconstructing biomass into fuels and other useful chemical building blocks remains a challenge. Now, through enzyme modification and ionic liquid solvents, it is possible to homogeneously biocatalytically convert cellulose to sugars at a rate 30 times greater than is achievable in water.

    • Alex P. S. Brogan
    • , Liem Bui-Le
    •  &  Jason P. Hallett
  • Nature Reviews Chemistry | Review Article

    Many methods exist for the recycling of plastic solid waste. Chemical recycling, which can take many forms from high-temperature pyrolysis to mild, solution-based catalytic depolymerization, can afford enormous economic and environmental benefits. This Review covers the state of the art in chemical recycling and the design of high-performance polymers amenable to such processes.

    • AliReza Rahimi
    •  &  Jeannette M. García
  • Nature Protocols | Protocol

    This protocol describes a simple, metal- and additive-free method to convert haloarenes directly to boronic acids and esters. These can be used to synthesize organic compounds for applications including drug discovery and materials science.

    • Adelphe M Mfuh
    • , Brett D Schneider
    • , Westley Cruces
    •  &  Oleg V Larionov