Daniel Kopetzki is awardee of the Brandenburg post-doc prize 2012
The chemist from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam receives the “post-doc prize” in the category natural and engineering science. The prize will be awarded on November 12, from the minister of science Sabine Kunst in the house of Brandenburg-Prussian history (HBPG) in Potsdam.
Awarded was Kopetzkis PhD thesis, which he completed 2011 under the guidance of Professor Markus Antonietti. Here, the young scientist was investigating how hydrothermal chemistry can be used to produce platform chemicals for the chemical industry based on renewable resources. Especially sugars can serve as basic starting materials regarding sustainable chemistry. When using biomass waste instead of isolated sugars, this process does not compete with the product ion of nutrition.
To work under hydrothermal conditions means: Employing water as reaction medium at temperatures above 100 °C, here from 200 °C to 300 °C. The liquid state is stable due to elevated pressures of about 100 bar. These conditions correspond to 100 times the ambient pressure. This system might be compared to a pressure cooker: because of the elevated temperatures chemical reactions are highly accelerated and surprising reactivities can be found. Besides, water as solvent has another advantage. In contrast to classical organic solvents it is environmentally friendly.
With the aid of hydrothermal chemistry the important platform chemical gamma-Valerolactone could be produced which can be used for “green chemistry” and biofuels. For the reduction of levulinic acid, a starting material produced from sugars, certain precious metals like ruthenium are usually required as catalysts. With the hydrothermal process combining water and high temperature, this catalytic role could be taken over by simple salts, e.g. sodium sulfate. Especially convenient is the fact, that these salts act as bases solely at elevated temperatures, but not when the solution is cooled down. In contrast to classical bases they are therefore recyclable.
According to Kopetzki, other reactions showed as well: “Catalysts and reagents could either be completely avoided or could be replaced by more environmentally benign alternatives. In this respect water is not only a sustainable solvent, but also contributes to the prevention of waste and the sensible use of resources.”