Prelims level : Science & Technology – Misc Mains level : GS III - Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
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  • Using platinum nanocatalyst, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras has successfully converted petroleum waste-product toluene into benzoic acid.

Uses of Benzoic Acid:

  • Benzoic acid is used as a food preservative (E210) and medicine for fungal/bacterial infection. Toluene is converted into benzoic acid through selective and controlled oxidation in the presence of a catalyst binaphthyl-stabilised platinum nanoparticles (Pt-BNP).

Green oxidant

  • Organic reactions are carried out using organic solvents, which makes it expensive and also generates toxic waste.
  • A green oxidant (70% aqueous tert-butyl hydroperoxide or TBHP) is used for converting toluene into benzoic acid.

The Chemistry Involved:

  • When toluene is oxidised, it gives four products. But when we use the catalyst that we developed, only benzoic acid is produced. No alcohol, aldehyde or ester is produced.
  • The yield of benzoic acid varied from 68-96% depending on whether the toluene used is electron-deficient or electron-rich. Toluene when oxidised gets converted into benzoic acid.
  • Molecular oxygen when used alone does not oxidise toluene and so no benzoic acid is generated. So the researchers used TBHP as an oxidiser. The catalyst reacts with TBHP to initiate the oxidisation reaction where toluene gets converted into benzoic acid through a series of reaction steps.
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