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I'm seeking a lay explanation for how the work of Dr Marc Taillefer that won the 2012 European Sustainable Chemistry Award, contributes to sustainable chemistry.

From the press release, Dr. Taillefer

is being recognised for his seminal contribution to the field of homogeneously catalysed coupling reactions leading to C—C, C—N, C—O, C—P bonds. His team at the Institut Charles Gerhardt, ICG (Montpellier, France) is investigating for a decade the environmentally sustainable conversion of small molecules into more valuable substances catalysed by copper and iron molecular complexes. This renaissance of “Ullmann type arylations” is now often used at the academic or industrial level and avoids the use of more expensive catalysts based on palladium.

The objectives of the award are (to quote from this press release) to:

  • Recognise individuals or small research groups which make an outstanding contribution to sustainable development by applying green and sustainable chemistry.
  • Promote innovation in chemistry and chemicals that will deliver clear improvements in the sustainable production and use of chemicals and chemical products.
  • Demonstrate that chemistry and chemicals can play a central role in delivering society’s needs, while minimizing and solving environmental problems.
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His work is about developping new catalysts based on copper and iron, to replace to traditional catalysts based on palladium. Copper and iron are both very common elements in nature, while palladium is considered a high supply risk (see the 2012 British Geological Survey risk list for details).

The new RSC Visual Elements Periodic Table can be used to check this kind of information.

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