As the world moves away from gas towards electricity as a greener power source, the to-do list goes beyond cars. The vast global manufacturing network that makes everything from our batteries to our fertilizers needs to flip the switch, too.
A study from UChicago chemists found a way to use electricity to boost a type of chemical reaction often used in synthesizing new candidates for pharmaceutical drugs.
“What we want to do is understand what’s happening at the fundamental level at the electrode interface, and use that to predict and design more efficient chemical reactions,” said Anna Wuttig, UChicago Neubauer Family Assistant Professor and the senior author on the paper. “This is a step towards that eventual goal.”
In certain chemical reactions, electricity can boost the output—and because you can get the needed electricity from renewable sources, it could be part of making the worldwide chemical industry greener.
But electrochemistry, as the field is known, is especially complex. There is much scientists don’t know about the molecular interactions, especially because you have to insert a conductive solid (an electrode) into the mix to provide the electricity, which means the molecules interact with that electrode as well as with each other. To a scientist trying to untangle the roles each molecule is playing and in what order, this makes an already complicated process even more complicated.
Wuttig, however, wants to turn this into an advantage. “What if you think about it as electrochemistry providing us with a unique design lever that’s not possible in any other system?” she said.