Facile synthesis of controllable graphene-co-shelled reusable Ni/NiO nanoparticles and their application in the synthesis of amines under mild conditions†
The primary objective of many researchers in chemical synthesis is the development of recyclable and easily accessible catalysts. These catalysts should preferably be made from Earth-abundant metals and have the ability to be utilised in the synthesis of pharmaceutically important compounds. Amines are classified as privileged compounds, and are used extensively in the fine and bulk chemical industries, as well as in pharmaceutical and materials research. In many laboratories and in industry, transition metal catalysed reductive amination of carbonyl compounds is performed using predominantly ammonia and H2. However, these reactions usually require precious metal-based catalysts or RANEY® nickel, and require harsh reaction conditions and yield low selectivity for the desired products. Herein, we describe a simple and environmentally friendly method for the preparation of thin graphene spheres that encapsulate uniform Ni/NiO nanoalloy catalysts (Ni/NiO@C) using nickel citrate as the precursor. The resulting catalysts are stable and reusable and were successfully used for the synthesis of primary, secondary, tertiary, and N-methylamines (more than 62 examples). The reaction couples easily accessible carbonyl compounds (aldehydes and ketones) with ammonia, amines, and H2 under very mild industrially viable and scalable conditions (80 °C and 1 MPa H2 pressure, 4 h), offering cost-effective access to numerous functionalized, structurally diverse linear and branched benzylic, heterocyclic, and aliphatic amines including drugs and steroid derivatives. We have also demonstrated the scale-up of the heterogeneous amination protocol to gram-scale synthesis. Furthermore, the catalyst can be immobilized on a magnetic stirring bar and be conveniently recycled up to five times without any significant loss of catalytic activity and selectivity for the product.