The synthesis of chemicals, ranging from small-molecule drugs to macromolecular polymers/materials, is a fundamental aspect of Science and one of the key pillars that drive the development of human society. Metal (TM) catalysis has had far-reaching impacts on the field of chemistry and society, most recently exemplified by 2010, 2005, and 2001 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Notwithstanding the advances thus far, the majority of TM-catalyzed methods rely on expensive and scarce noble metals. Ironically, to meet short-term goals, chemists/companies tend to utilize noble metal-based catalysts because the corresponding processes are more well-developed, robust, and reliable.
Given the dwindling abundance of TMs in the earth's crust, Ming Joo Koh, an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), was strongly motivated to develop catalysts derived from non-precious base metals such as iron and nickel, which are expected to play increasingly important roles towards the global drive for sustainable chemistry.
Since June 2018 at NUS, Koh has established a program on sustainable TM catalysis under three areas of research: iron catalysis (IC), nickel catalysis (NC), and single-atom catalysis (SAC). Under IC, he developed new homogeneous iron-based catalysts to transform simple alkenes, cheap feedstock materials from the chemical sector, to higher-value alkene products as well as prized organoboron compounds. Under NC, he devised new protocols for promoting cross-coupling and alkene/alkyne functionalizations using homogeneous nickel-based catalysts, which are critical for accessing bioactive drug-like compounds. Under SAC, Koh adopted a multidisciplinary approach by collaborating with NUS material chemists to design next-generation heterogeneous single-atom metal catalysts that can be recycled over many rounds, and have tremendous potential in promoting sustainable chemical production.
Koh's sustainable approach is sensitive to and aligned with critical global concerns which will significantly enhance the way in which many important molecules are prepared in terms of cost savings, as well as vis-à-vis the amount of waste generated.