Looks like we'll soon have a more straightforward way to make stockings, zip-ties, and tire belts.
Adipic acid, a six-carbon diacid representing one of the "sixes" in Nylon 6-6, apparently takes quite a bit of industrial "elbow grease" to make. The current process, starting from cyclohexane, requires cobalt, manganese, copper, and vanadate salts, high pressures of oxygen gas, and hot nitric acid. Out the other side, its responsible for 5-8% of the nitrous oxide we humans spew into the atmosphere each year.
|From Science 2014, Hwang and Sagadevan|
Now, researchers Hwang and Sagadevan (National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) believe they have a better method. Reporting in this week's Science, the two disclose a method that sounds so much simpler: flush a sample of cyclohexane with ozone and UV light, and, presto! Solid adipic acid at the bottom of your reactor. No metal salts, no nitrous oxide, no high pressures or temperatures.
|Wow, that looks a lot simpler.|
The researchers note that zapping ozone produces both singlet oxygen, 1O2, and a single singlet oxygen atom O(1D). The highly reactive single singlet (say that three times fast!) can easily insert into C-H bonds, and, since it seems to prefer insertion next to an already-oxidized carbon, the diol, diketone, and finally diacid products are formed preferentially.
|Applause, please: Look at this beautiful pictorial SI!|
Twice, in two days.
Just for fun, Hwang and Sagadevan crack open some larger hydrocarbons, and check the selectivity of alkyl-functionalized rings and aromatics. There are tantalizing possibilities here that I'm sure, given the ease of this reaction setup, most organic chemists will already be trying: how do complex natural products* react under these conditions? If anyone tries it this weekend, please drop me a line.
*For that matter, I wonder if this pathway is operative in human tissues under physiological conditions? Sunlight does have some 300 nm band, and we certainly come into contact with ozone out in the wide world. Hmm.