PerspectiveInorganic Chemistry

From rock-stable to reactive phosphorus

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Science  23 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6382, pp. 1333
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat1206

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The main use of phosphate minerals is as fertilizer, but phosphorus is used in herbicides, flame retardants, drugs, battery electrolytes, and other materials. To date, the key feedstock for these materials is elemental phosphorus, particularly white phosphorus (P4). Reduction of phosphate to P4 is energy intensive, and it must be converted into other intermediates, such as PCl3, through reaction with chlorine gas (all of which are highly reactive and toxic). On page 1383 of this issue, Geeson and Cummins (1) report a set of simple transformations that afford a less energy-intensive strategy for converting phosphate into the bis(trichlorosilyl)phosphide anion 1. Anion 1 serves as a P4 surrogate useful for the synthesis of a number of important organophosphorus compounds, including an organophosphorus-based drug.