Fueling Renewable Feedstocks

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Science  17 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5998, pp. 1442
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5998.1442-b

As petroleum supplies dwindle and concerns mount about the adverse environmental impact of chemical waste streams, chemists are increasingly on the lookout for better ways to derive the feedstocks used to manufacture plastics, medicines, and numerous other carbon-based societal necessities. One promising route to partially oxidized intermediates such as acetate is the fuel cell–mediated reaction of alcohols with oxygen. Direct alcohol fuel cells can produce electricity while halting oxidation at substances more functionally diverse and useful than CO2. Most such fuel cells rely on either heterogeneous precious metal catalysts or oxidative enzymes. Annen et al. present a fuel cell design that uses well-defined molecular rhodium complexes, supported on a conductive surface, to catalyze ethanol oxidation to acetate. The short-term power density of a prototype cell approached that of the heterogeneous systems, greatly exceeding the typical performance of enzymatic devices, while at the same time offering the tunability and depth of mechanistic insight associated with molecular catalysts. Analysis of the cell after approximately 2 days of running time confirmed that the rhodium complex remained largely intact, although tight coordination of the acetate product reduced its activity.

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 49, 10.1002/anie.201002234 (2010).

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