Simplified preparation of a graphene-co-shelled Ni/NiO@C nano-catalyst and its application in the N-dimethylation synthesis of amines under mild conditions†
The development of Earth-abundant, reusable and non-toxic heterogeneous catalysts to be applied in the pharmaceutical industry for bio-active relevant compound synthesis remains an important goal of general chemical research. N-methylated compounds, as one of the most essential bioactive compounds, have been widely used in the fine and bulk chemical industries for the production of high-value chemicals. Herein, an environmentally friendly and simplified method for the preparation of graphene encapsulated Ni/NiO nanoalloy catalysts (Ni/NiO@C) was developed for the first time, for the highly selective synthesis of N-methylated compounds using various functional amines and aldehydes under easy to handle, and industrially applicable conditions. A large number of primary and secondary amines (more than 70 examples) could be converted to the corresponding N,N-dimethylamines with the participation of different functional aldehydes, with an average yield of over 95%. A gram-scale synthesis also demonstrated a similar yield when compared with the benchmark test. In addition, it was further proved that the catalyst could easily be recycled because of its intrinsic magnetism and reused up to 10 times without losing its activity and selectivity. Also, for the first time, the tandem synthesis of N,N-dimethylamine products in a one-pot process, using only a single earth-abundant metal catalyst, whose activity and selectivity were more than 99% and 94%, respectively, for all tested substrates, was developed. Overall, the advantages of this newly developed method include operational simplicity, high stability, easy recyclability, cost-effectiveness of the catalyst, and good functional group compatibility for the synthesis of N-methylation products as well as the industrially applicable tandem synthesis process.