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A day focused on electrochemistry in organic synthesis

The participants at the physical meeting had a great opportunity to mingle with other researchers in between sessions.
Photo: Erika Lindbom Sierakowiak.

Electrochemistry is a technique that enables a greener production of chemicals, but it also changes the way organic chemists disconnects and makes molecules, which was highlighted during the meeting Trends in Organic Chemistry 2021 (TOC2021), which took place on Monday the 6th of December.

The meeting took place in hybrid form, where the about hundred people that participated physically at IVA Conference Center in Stockholm showed a valid Covid certificate before entering. The day consisted of five lectures on various aspects of electrochemistry in organic synthesis, and provided ample opportunity to mingle with other researchers between and after the sessions.

The first speaker of the day was Siegfried Waldvogel from Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany.

– I will talk about how I look at electrochemistry as an organic chemist, he said and pointed out that the technique is otherwise mainly used by physical chemists.

He spoke about the advantages of electrosynthesis. As more and more electricity comes from renewable sources the technique gets greener and greener. The method is also inherently safe and makes it possible to avoid using certain metals as catalysts.

– In classical syntheses you need to add something to catalyze a reaction but in electrochemistry you can use electrodes to oxidize, reduce, perform radical reactions etc.

Siegfried Waldvogel from Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany, was the first speaker of the day.
Photo: Erika Lindbom Sierakowiak

Professor Waldvogel also spoke about the importance of screening in electrochemistry – e.g. in order to find the most suitable material to use in the anode and cathode.

He wrapped up with an example of how electrochemistry has made it possible to remediate soil that has been contaminated with lindane, gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (γ-HCH). Lindane is a neurotoxin that has been used as an insecticide in agriculture, and also as a pharmaceutical treatment for lice and scabies.

After showing photos of children playing and cows grazing in front of deposits of HCH he spoke about how electrochemistry can be used to break down this persistent molecule, and transfer the chloride ions to produce valuable organic compounds along with industrially relevant benzene as by-product.

The next speaker was Professor Lutz Ackermann from the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, who is also the founder and director of the Wöhler Research Institute for Sustainable Chemistry. He gave several examples of how his group has developed methods within the field of electrochemistry to make e.g. the synthesis of different pharmaceuticals more effective and sustainable.

Read an interview about Professor Ackermann’s research here: Interview: Making chemical synthesis more sustainable – Svenska Kemisamfundet

From left to right: Elena V Stepanova (KTH), Piret Villo (KTH), Cristiana Margarita (KTH), Erika Lindbom Sierakowiak (The Swedish Chemical Society), Johannes Röckl (KTH), Peter Olsén (KTH), and Fredrik Schaufelberger (KTH) at lunch. Photo: Peter Dinér.

Next in line – right after lunch – was Professor Shelley Minteer from the University of Utah. Her talk focused on the pros and cons of bioelectrocatalysis compared to classical electrocatalysis.

Read an interview about Professor Minteer’s research here: Interview: Sensors, batteries and electrochemistry – Svenska Kemisamfundet

Thomas Wirth, Professor at Cardiff University in the UK, was the next speaker. His talk focused on the use of electrochemistry in flow and the benefits, including fully automated systems that appealed to the synthetic audience.

– Fully automated flow electrochemistry allows us to control every step from a computer. All we have to do ourselves is to mount the sample and collect the end-products after the reactions.

Professor Thomas Wirth, Cardiff University, was one of the speakers at TOC2021, where the focus was electrochemistry in organic synthesis.
Photo: Erika Lindbom Sierakowiak

The last speaker of the day was Phil Baran, Professor at The Scripps Research Institute, USA. He delivered an energetic and inspirational talk structured as a Q&A session about electrosynthesis and highlighted what the technique can be used for – that it can be employed to solve many different synthetic problems but also to enable entirely new types of chemical reactions, with the opportunity for molecules to be disconnected and constructed in new ways.

TOC2021 was organized by the Swedish Chemical Society and members of the Division of Organic Chemistry at KTH with financial support from the sponsors.