Solvents are ubiquitous in chemistry, used to bring species together for reactions, for separations and for processing but most chemical synthesis makes use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are toxic, volatile, flammable and are largely passive spectators to the reactions carried out within them yet are central to all industrial production of chemical species from therapeutics to catalyst particles. Recently, however, a family of novel solvents, deep eutectic solvents (DES) have been demonstrated, by one of our team, to allow water-sensitive synthetic reactions to be safely done on the benchtop and also to play an active role in directing reactions and structuring nanomaterials. This recently developed class of solvents therefore have enormous potential to replace VOCs with safer, greener liquids which, in addition, have intriguing properties, currently not understood, that allow them to defy existing synthetic practice. Yet DES bring their own challenges to transitioning them into manufacturing practice, requiring development of a new manufacturing platform to enable their rapid deployment in industrial processes, as well as requiring an improved understanding of how these solvents facilitate syntheses.
DES are room temperature liquids consisting of mixtures of a salt and hydrogen-bonding neutral molecules. Cheap, non-toxic, biodegradable, sourced from biomass, they are highly tuneable for specific applications. Yet, surprisingly little is understood about how DES structures and interactions facilitate and direct syntheses. This project aims to link a greater understanding of solvent structuring in DES and solute interactions in DES, with state-of-the-art organometallic synthesis and functional meta-materials preparation, and crucially focuses on implementation of manufacturing solutions to allow these fundamental investigations a route into real industrial practices. Use of molecular assemblies in DES and novel continuous manufacturing technologies will open the way to design of cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly reaction processes, leading to new functional materials and greener routes to pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and other fine chemicals.