Transitioning organic synthesis from organic solvents to water. What's your E Factor?
Traditional organic chemistry, and organic synthesis in particular, relies heavily on organic solvents, as most reactions involve organic substrates and catalysts that tend to be water-insoluble. Unfortunately, organic solvents make up most of the organic waste created by the chemical enterprise, whether from academic, industrial, or governmental labs. One alternative to organic solvents follows the lead of Nature: water. To circumvent the solubility issues, newly engineered “designer” surfactants offer an opportunity to efficiently enable many of the commonly used transition metal-catalyzed and related reactions in organic synthesis to be run in water, and usually at ambient temperatures. This review focuses on recent progress in this area, where such amphiphiles spontaneously self-aggregate in water. The resulting micellar arrays serve as nanoreactors, obviating organic solvents as the reaction medium, while maximizing environmental benefits.