Clean Synthesis & Platform Molecules

Wood pellets, test tubes, researcher in lab

The Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence promotes the application of green and sustainable technologies, particularly those that can be used to deliver products that meet consumer and legislation requirements. We also champion the utilization of bio-derived platform molecules.

Our expertise in developing cleaner manufacturing technologies and processes makes the production of a range of chemicals possible in a manner which maximises efficiency and minimises waste. We have considerable experience in the development and use of heterogeneous catalysts, alternative solvents (inc. scCO2) and microwave technologies, all of which can enhance processing and are considered as cornerstones of Clean Synthesis.

These are combined with an investigative approach based on fundamental chemistry, in order to unravel the requirements of each process before designing the appropriate solution. In addition to the normal lab scale facilities, the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence has larger reactors capable of handling quantities up to kilogram scale, with multi-kilo scale available through the Biorenewables Development Centre at York.

The BDC also has expertise in the use of microwave reactors and supercritical CO2 reactors for carrying out reactions capable of working on the multi-100g scale to demonstrate processes beyond small scale reactions, and to provide material for further testing.

All these facilities are backed up with excellent analytical facilities within the Centre which allow both process optimisation and final product analysis to be carried out. In addition, we have excellent facilities for the characterisation of catalysts before and after reaction.

We have successfully taken the following processes / products to commercial realisation:

  • A process for a-bromination of carboxylic acids, eliminating the need for phosphorus and dramatically reducing process times.

  • Development of a range of clay-based solid catalysts for acid catalysed reactions, including Friedel-Crafts.

  • Development of a series of tunable, biomass-derived catalysts / catalyst supports for reactions in water including conversion of platform molecules.

  • Development of a streamlined process for the isolation of an active pharmaceutical ingredient.

Current Interests

The Green Chemistry Centre is currently actively pursuing developments in a range of areas including:

  • Conversion of various forms of waste biomass to platform chemicals (bioPMs)

  • Use of bioPMs to produce higher-value chemicals such as monomers, solvents, pharmaceuticals, lubricants and home and personal additives

  • Development of new catalysts with a specific focus on heterogeneous catalysts with controllable and tunable porosity and surface functionalisation

  • Finding alternatives to catalysts that currently require the use of critical elements

  • Adaption of our current catalytic system to flow, thus aiding scale-up and often improving process efficiency

  • Development of Clean Synthetic Techniques such as microwaves, ultrasound and alternative solvents thus reducing the environmental impact of various chemical transformations

  • Development of metrics, toolkits and standards for the promotion of sustainable chemicals

Recent Research Highlights

The Clean Synthesis Technology Platform has successfully developed and tested a wide range of catalysts, with a particular focus in heterogeneous catalysts derived from biomass (e.g. Starbons®),1 produced from ash from power stations burning biomass (e.g. bio-MCMs)2 or catalysts prepared via the capture of metals in waste stream (phytomining).3

These have been used within flow reactors for process intensification and facilitating scale-up.4

We have used bioPMs in the synthesis of a variety of valuable chemicals, these include:

  • A polar aprotic solvent (Cyrene) derived from levoglucosenone5
  • A bio-derived activating and protection group derived from D-limonene6
  • A range of wholly bio-based unsaturated polyester resins7
  • A drop-in replacement for PTSA derived from citrus waste,8 and this further applied in the production of a bio-based ionic liquid9
  • We have developed solvent modeling methodologies that have been utilised to promote the application of bio-derived solvents in a range of chemical process, and is supported by our work in developing new bio-derived solvents.10

We are working to developed European standards for the assessment of bio-based carbon and total biomass content of products, the aim to support the emerging bio-based within Europe and beyond.11


Clean Synthesis and Platform Molecules Brochure (PDF  , 1,289kb)

Clean Synthesis Group Members

Dr Thomas Farmer Clean Synthesis Technology Platform Leader
Dr James Comerford Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr James Sherwood Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr Ian Ingram Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr Xiao Wu Postdoctoral Researcher
Fergal Byrne  Postdoctoral Researcher
Tabitha Petchey Research Student
Eddie Monteith Research Student


1 Chem, Soc. Rev., 38 (2009), 3401; 2 Green Chem., 15 (2013), 1203; 3 PLOS One, 9 (2014), e67192; 4 Arkivoc, vii (2012), 282; 5 Chem. Comm., 50 (2014), 9650;  6 JBCS, accepted (2015);  7 Int. J. Mol. Sci., 16 (2015), 14912; 8 Catalysis Today, 190 (2012), 144; 9 Sus. Chem. Pro., 1:23 (2013), 1;  10 Chem: A Euro. J., 19 (2013), 5174; 11