We develop robust and useful synthetic organic electrochemical catalysis methods, and use physical organic chemistry tools to interrogate their reaction mechanisms.
The low-energy—do-nothing—pathway forward for humanity will inevitably be accompanied by a plethora of highly challenging scenarios. Thankfully, all around the world, efforts are being made to scale the high-energy barrier leading toward the ultimate utopia of global sustainability. However, the energy landscape is complex and multifaceted, and solutions are required for each of the innumerable systems that currently consume an excess of resources.
The pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries produce essential, high-value products. Unfortunately, the associated multi-step syntheses, frequent use of stoichiometric reagents and large solvent volumes result in high E-factors (mass of waste/mass of product). Thus, to ensure a sustained output of these important medicines and agrochemicals at reasonable costs, there is a demand to continually explore the efficiency of organic synthesis. The development of stream-lined and robust methodologies to prepare useful building-blocks and complex molecules from sustainable and inexpensive materials is highly important, and forms the central theme of research in the Lennox Lab.
The tools employed to achieve this goal involve the combination of the three distinct but related fields of catalysis, organic electrochemistry and physical organic chemistry. Catalysis provides a means of achieving a lower energy pathway, in which the reactivity and selectivity can be tuned. Electrochemistry readily mediates redox reactions and facilities the use of desirable reagents to provide or accept electrons, thereby avoiding the use of stoichiometric undesirable reagents. The dialled-in redox control can also be exploited to achieve elevated levels of functional group tolerance. Finally, physical organic chemistry provides a means of further understanding the electrochemical catalysis, which aids further optimisation of the reaction conditions in order to provide robust and practical methods. The contribution of practical organic reactions, technological tools and mechanistic understanding will help transition the chemical industries toward a sustainable future. Current projects in the group include the development of selective fluorination and reduction protocols.