Aromatic hydrocarbons are among the most important building blocks in the chemical industry, used as precursors for materials as diverse as fuels, detergents, plastics, fibers and pharmaceuticals.
Alkanes are among the most abundant and least expensive of chemical feedstocks and are accessible from virtually any carbon source, including biomass and fossil fuels, via Fischer-Tropsch chemistry.
The groups of Alan Goldman at Rutgers and Maurice Brookhart at University of North Carolina have developed a remarkable homogeneous catalytic system for the direct one-pot conversion of n-alkanes to alkylaromatics.
In addition to the advantage of inexpensive feedstock, the alkylaromatic products are unbranched. These products may have advantageous properties, such as increased stability, compared with the branched heavy aromatics that are currently obtained from the coupling of light aromatics and olefins. The synthesis of such unbranched products would normally require very expensive, non-catalytic, synthetic methods and reagents.
Ahuja, R., Punji, B., Findlater, M., Supplee, C., Schinski, W., Brookhart, M. & Goldman, A. S. Catalytic dehydroaromatization of n-alkanes by pincer-ligated iridium complexes. Nature Chem. 3, 167-171, doi:10.1038/nchem.946 (2011).