Hydrogenation of carboxylic acids with a homogeneous cobalt catalyst

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Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 298-302
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa8938

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A direct route from acids to alcohols

Making alcohols via hydrogen addition to C=O bonds is among the most widely applied reactions in chemistry. The transformation has also garnered renewed interest for generating commodity chemicals from biomass. Korstanje et al. now show that a cobalt compound can catalyze hydrogenation of the C=O bonds in carboxylic acids. These constitute a particularly challenging substrate class, given the propensity of many other catalysts to degrade under acidic conditions. The cobalt catalyst tolerates a versatile substrate range, and the Earth abundance of the metal bodes well for long-term utility.

Science, this issue p. 298


The reduction of esters and carboxylic acids to alcohols is a highly relevant conversion for the pharmaceutical and fine-chemical industries and for biomass conversion. It is commonly performed using stoichiometric reagents, and the catalytic hydrogenation of the acids previously required precious metals. Here we report the homogeneously catalyzed hydrogenation of carboxylic acids to alcohols using earth-abundant cobalt. This system, which pairs Co(BF4)2·6H2O with a tridentate phosphine ligand, can reduce a wide range of esters and carboxylic acids under relatively mild conditions (100°C, 80 bar H2) and reaches turnover numbers of up to 8000.

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