Catalysis meeting points out step change in crucial fine chemistry

FineCat 2015


FineCat 2015 PosterThe 4th edition of the "FineCat Symposium on heterogeneous catalysis for fine chemicals" successfully ended ended on the late evening of April 9th with a nice social dinner at the Tasca d'Almerita estate (watch the video and photogallery).

"It is in places such as this that we understand -- said Professor Manfred Reetz in a speech ending the dinner -- that chemistry is not the most important thing in life".

Held in the Sala delle Capriate of the Steri Palace, hall of Palermo's University Rectorate, the Symposium featured 14 symposia and 6 poster presentation that highlighted practically relevant chemical innovation in fields as important as the directed evolution of enantioselective enzymes, the low cost manufacturing of medicines for developing countries, catalysis via new encapsulated chiral nanoparticles and new visible-light photocatalysts, and a unified view of heterogeneous catalysis for the oleochemical platform.

Delegates from Finland, France, Austria, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Chile and Italy testified again the truly international nature of this Symposium series inaugurated in 2012, that is emerging as a not-to-miss event in the field of heterogeneous (molecular, metal and bio) catalysis for fine chemicals synthesis.

Inaugurated by a speech of Palermo's University Professor Fabrizio Lo Celso dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Roberto Triolo -- for 3 decades eminent professor of physical chemistry at the same University -- the Symposium saw the invited lectures of great chemical scientists Irina Beletskaya, Manfred Reetz and Oliver Kappe.

"Roberto Triolo was a brilliant scientist who had many new ideas. -- opened his speech Professor Lo Celso  -- Today, however, I don't want to remember him for this, but rather for his unique ability to transmit his passion for research to his students" (watch the video). Dr Lo Celso co-authored a long profile of Professor Triolo along with his son, Fabio, now a Professor in Texas, aptly inserted in the FineCat 2015 Book of Abstracts of accepted contributions shortly available as eBook on all main online bookstores 

Fabrizio Lo Celso remembering Professor Roberto Triolo at FineCat 2015

Invited Lectures and Oral Presentation

Fine chemicals -- polyfunctional molecules with specific properties imparting them high added value -- have traditionally been synthesized via selective homogeneous synthetic methods. All this is now changing as newly developed heterogeneous catalysis emerges as a convenient industrial tool capable to make the fine chemicals industry not only environmentally, but also economically, more sustainable.

Furthermore, biomass feedstock is emerging to replace raw materials of petrochemical origin; thereby closing the materials cycle that makes chemical processes truly sustainable.

On April 8th, Manfred Reetz, Hans-Meerwein-Research-Professor, Marburg University, Germany, opened the meeting with a wonderful lecture on the impressive outcomes of research in the directed evolution of enzymes as a source of suitable catalysts for asymmetric reactions, much more active and stable when compared to conventional enzymes.  Professor Reetz recounted the tour de force that has brough this research,from the original discovery in 1997, to being evaluated for forthcoming clean industrial syntheses of enantiopure molecules.

In her lecture eminent organometallic chemist and Russian Academy of the Sciences member Irina Beletskaya first compared the homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis with several metals in different reactions of relevance to fine chemistry; and then considered the asymmetric catalysis by immobilized Broensted and Lewis acids in Friedel-Crafts, Michael, Pudovic and other important reactions on asymmetric reactions.

The development of new, advanced platforms where to carry out expedited research on heterogeneous catalysis is of great practical relevance; particularly in the context of the biorefinery where oxygenated substrates are to be rapidly and selectively converted. Catalysis is living a renaissance, opened his lecture, Professor Sébastien Paul, Ecole Centrale de Lille, France, emphasizing his central role in the emerging biorefinery. He then presented the impressive “Realcat” platform recently installed at Lille’s Unité de Catalyse et de Chimie du Solide.

Professor Päivi Elisa Mäki-Arvela, Åbo Akademi University, Finland, described the successful results of joint researches aimed to heterogeneously synthesize Dioxinol (a drug) starting from naturally occurring monoterpenoid verbenol oxide reacted with benzaldehydes over metal modified zeolites.

Professor Doris Ruiz, Faculty of Chemistry, University of Concepcion, Chile, reported an effective synthesis of enantiopure alcohols by asymmetric hydrogenation of prochiral ketones using silica-supported chiral metal nanoparticles.

Professor Giovanni Palmisano,  Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, United Arab Emirates, reported on the use of N-doped titania phases for the photocatalytic synthesis of aromatic aldehydes under ultraviolet and visible light.

The second day was opened by a fascinating lecture of Professor Oliver Kappe, Institute of Chemistry, University of Graz, Austria, who described the great contributions of his research group in the field of atom efficient and process-intensified catalytic chemical transformations useful for the synthesis of APIs or key intermediates that are often too hazardous to be executed in a batch reactor - clearly an hot topic in industry where a number of pharmaceutical and CMO (contract manufacturing organizations) already make use of manufacturing processes carried out under flow.

The oleochemical platform is devoted to the production of biofuels and chemicals from vegetable oils and animal fats. Professor Pedro J. Maireles Torres, Department of Inorganic Chemistry, University of Malaga, Spain, described several new different strategies to attain high yields of biodiesel by using solid catalysts developed by his Laboratory.

Offering a "Brazilian perspective on drugs making", Professor Rodrigo de Souza, Institute of Chemistry, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, presented remarkable results on the continuous flow technology using immobilized enzymes to synthesize important APIs especially suited for the Brazilian health system needs.

The sol-gel process is nowadays used to make different powerful solid catalysts for fine chemicals synthesis. Professor Damien Debecker, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium, describes how new developments of his group in the fundamentals of sol-gel chemistry or in the sol-gel process implementation open various perspectives of interest in green, entantioselective synthesis as well as in basic petrochemistry.

Related photocatalytic routes are described also by PhD students Luigi Da Vià, University of Liverpool, UK, and Alberto De Riccardis, University of Salento, Italy, who described the selective oxidation of glucose over titania-supported Au and Ag nanoparticles; and enhanced photodegradative processes as well as the photoreduction of carbon dioxide in aqueous suspension of phtalocyanine- and porphyrin-titania.

Finally, Dr Francesco Mauriello,  Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria, Italy, and Dr Chiara Deiana, University of Torino, Italy, respectively described the hydrogenolysis of glycerol catalyzed by palladium coprecipitated on iron oxide catalyst; and the synthesis of dibutyl carbonate by insertion of CO2 in titanium(IV) butoxide, and further release of the dibutyl carbonate by reacting the intermediate species with 1-pentanamine.

Poster Presentation

FineCat 2015 - Book of AbstractA number of Poster presentation impacting relevant areas of contemporary research in the field were presented at FineCat 2015. Francesco Parrino, University of Palermo, Italy, addressed the photoisomerization of trans-caffeic acid to cis-caffeic acid under UV light irradiation titania-based catalysts. Francesca Pomilla, from the same research group, presented the results of the photocatalytic oxidation of glucose in aqueous suspensions over new heteropolyacid-titania composites.

Maria Luisa Testa, Institute of Nanostructured Materials, CNR, describe the second-generation citrus biorefinery, and the excellent results in the photodegradation of p-cresol over silica-supported photoactive catalysts isolated from urban biowaste.

Professor Ramon Moreno Tost, University of Malaga, Spain, describes the outcomes of the gas phase dehydration of glycerol to acrolein over WO3 supported on Zr-doped mesoporous silica.

University of Palermo's PhD students Erika Amore and Chiara Botto, working with Dr Bondì at Palermo's Institute of Nanostructured Materials, respectively presented the results of the use of PEGylated graphene oxide, and cationic solid lipid nanoparticles as delivery materials (and thus fine chemicals) for DNA plasmid and therapeutic agents.

Poster Awards

Three Poster Prizes were awarded. The first prize, a 1 year’s free personal e-subscription to Dalton Transactions, went to Francesco Parrino, a post-doc research fellow at the "Schiavello-Grillone" research Group of the University of Palermo, for his poster concerning the catalytic photoisomerization of trans-caffeic acid to cis-caffeic acid.

The Prize was kindly offered by RSC Publishing, partnering with the organizers since the very first FineCat symposium.

Press coverage

Towards FineCat 2016

The 5th edition of FineCat will be held in Sicily on April 6-7, 2016. 

Further information

Dr M. Pagliaro ( - Prof. L. Palmisano (

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