CS1 - Innovative chemistry reduces the environmental impact of mining and pharmaceutical manufacture
Submitting InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Unit of AssessmentChemistry
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Other Chemical Sciences
Summary of the impact
The technology in this impact study is based on organofunctionalised
silica materials that can address market needs for high purity in
compounds that underpin many areas of the pharma, electronic and medical
sectors as well as the recovery of limited resources such as precious
metals that are used in diverse industries. Since the launch of the
product portfolio in 2006, the materials have become embedded in
purification or recovery steps in commercial production processes of
leading mining (South Africa), pharmaceutical (UK) and petrochemical
(Germany) companies and make a significant impact on the business of these
companies as well as limiting waste of limited resources.
Organic-inorganic hybrid materials have applications in health care,
sustainable chemistry and energy transport and generation.
Many organic-inorganic hybrid materials are formed through organic
modifications to common metal oxide surfaces. This process imparts novel
properties that are useful in a host of applications such as in the
fabrication of new biomaterials, chemical sensors, solid phase catalysts
and media that are used for purification or capture of high value chemical
entities including pharma intermediates/products or precious metals.
Professor Alice Sullivan has worked and published in this field for more
than twenty years. While working on organically modified silicas and
silica type materials (during the period 1995-2003) it became apparent to
Sullivan (Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at QM) and research associate
Dr John Wilson (PDRA and Academic Visitor at QM 2001-2005) that the
development of these materials for a range of potential applications was
severely hampered both in terms of cost and performance by the limited
methods then used for surface modifier synthesis. Modifiers were largely
derived from a single chloroalkylsilane source. This meant that the
resulting compounds had a very limited range of functionality.
Prof. Sullivan and Dr Wilson realised that a novel approach, based on
radical addition chemistry, would lead to products with better
performance, lower costs at scale, and which could be applied to a wider
range of problems. The process that they developed is amenable to large
scale manufacture. A series of papers demonstrating some of the catalytic
applications of the materials including different types of oxidation,
carbon-carbon coupling and hydrogenation chemistries were published by the
team between 1998 and 2011 [1-6]. These novel organic modifiers and the
derived materials formed the inventive steps of a series of patent
applications submitted between 2001 and 2006 [7, 8].
An initial patent application on phosphonate modified silicas was
submitted by Sullivan and Wilson from Queen Mary in 2001 proceeding to
grant in the US and Europe in 2006. Patents covering the other families of
modified materials followed, including those with sulfur rich or nitrogen
rich surface modifiers. The portfolio provided materials with excellent
metal binding affinities covering the hard or soft metals in common use in
the pharmaceutical, petrochemical, mining and fine chemicals sectors and
supporting applications in areas of solid phase catalysis and purification
and embracing ideas of sustainable chemical processing.
References to the research
1. M. Jurado-Gonzalez, Duan Li Ou, Alice C. Sullivan, J.R.H. Wilson.
`Synthesis, characterisation and catalytic activity of porous
vanadylphosphonate modified silicas'. J. Mater. Chem., 2002, 12,
2. M. Jurado-Gonzalez, Alice C. Sullivan, J.R.H. Wilson. `Oxidation of
allylic olefins using cobalt (II) alkyl phosphonate modified silica', Tetrahedron
Letters, 2003, 44, 4283-4286
3. M. Jurado-Gonzalez, Alice C. Sullivan, J.R.H. Wilson. `Selective
oxidations of allylic alcohols using vanadyl and cobalt(II) alkyl
phosphonate modified silicas', Tetrahedron Letters, 2004, 45,
4. E. Fisset, M. Al-Hashimi, J. Wilson, AC Sullivan. `Selective
oxidations of sulfides to sulfoxides using immobilised metal alkyl
phosphonate', Tetrahedron Letters, 2006, 46, 8017-8019
5. Al-Hashimi M., Sullivan A.C. and Wilson J.R.H. `Palladium
ethylthioglycolate modified silica — a new heterogeneous catalyst for
Suzuki and Heck cross-coupling reactions', J. Mol. Catal. A Chemical,
2007, 273, 298-30
6. Qazi and A.C. Sullivan, `Mesoporous silica-bis(ethylsulfanyl)propane
palladium catalysts for hydrogenation and one-pot two-step Suzuki
cross-coupling followed by hydrogenation', Dalton Trans. 2011, 40
7. Patent Title: Organopolysiloxanes containing phosphonic groups,
methods for the production and use thereof.
SULLIVAN, A. C., & Wilson, J. R. H. (2002, July 18). WO02055587 (A1),
Granted US as US 7,728,159 B2, , Date of Patent: 20th June 2006
Granted Europe as EP 1360222B, Date of Patent: 10th August 2006
8. Patent Title: Substituted organopolysiloxanes, and use thereof.
Wilson, J. R. H., SULLIVAN, A. C., & Man, S. P. (2006, February 9).
Granted: In Europe as EP 1786850B on 26th November 2008; also granted in
Details of the impact
Sullivan's research [1-6] led to a range of patented products [7, 8] that
were brought to market by the spin-out company PhosphonicS [a]. The
company, which was established in 2003 and has shown substantial growth
throughout the REF period, manufactures and supplies these products at the
metric tonne scale around the globe. Current applications of Sullivan's
technology by PhosphonicS clients include precious metal recovery in the
mining, pharmaceutical and petrochemical markets.
The initial phase of translation of Sullivan's research into commercially
viable products began in 2003 with the formation of PhosphonicS Ltd
(Founders Sullivan and Wilson) supported by Dr Malcolm Sims then Director
of Queen Mary Innovation and Enterprise (now Queen Mary Innovation Ltd).
The first staff and lab space were paid for using funds from a DTI Smart
Award and the Combined London Colleges University Challenge Seed Fund.
PhosphonicS' development progressed through a series of stages focused on
product development in the chemistry laboratories at Queen Mary during
2003-2006 and continued, following Series A funding totalling £1.5
million, with a move to premises at Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxford.
Sullivan maintained her academic position at Queen Mary while acting in an
advisory capacity to the company.
The company continued to grow with the benefit of long-term investor
support from the original investor-shareholders who provided additional
amounts of £1.3M in 2008 and £450k in 2009.
PhosphonicS is a cleantech company that provides novel technology to
recover precious metals from process, waste and effluent streams and
providing both financial and environmental benefits to industrial end
users and metal refiners. The innovative chemistry underpinning
PhosphonicS materials [1-6] gives them leading performance for the
recovery of precious metals such as platinum and rhodium from large volume
low concentration (parts per million) waste streams, making recovery both
cleaner and more economic than alternative options. PhosphonicS' materials
are also applied in the metric-tonne volumes as next-generation metal and
organic scavengers in the pharmaceutical, and fine and speciality chemical
industries for product purification purposes.
`Case study' examples of the application of PhosphonicS materials are
available from the company website [b, c] and include the recovery of
rhodium from a waste stream that was previously being transported and
burned with no precious metal recovery. PhosphonicS provided the plant
with innovative materials that remove 95% of the rhodium from the waste
stream, of which 97% can then be reclaimed from the scavenger. Another
PhosphonicS client utilises the materials in the manufacture of active
pharmaceutical ingredients. The client uses platinum as a catalyst, which
must be removed from the product before use, with final concentrations no
greater than 10 ppm. The PhosphonicS scavenger removes 98% of the
platinum, 98% of which can be recovered.
In 2010 the company secured second round financing of £3.5m (US$5.75m),
led by French venture capital company Seventure Partners (Press Release
April 2010). The new capital allowed the company to expand its core team
into larger premises, increase the number of international agents and
secure further manufacturing options for its products.
In 2011 PhosphonicS also forged a strategic liaison with multinational
company W.C. Heraeus [d], who offer batch refinery. W.C. Heraeus is
offering PhosphonicS' scavenger processes to its customers with low-grade
waste streams to enable them to capture and recycle more of their precious
Building on the success of Sullivan's novel technology, the number of
PhosphonicS employees had grown from six in 2005 to 25 in March 2012; the
majority at PhD level. The company has also been able to support PhD CASE
students at Queen Mary University of London. According to publically
available accounts, the average net worth (net asset value) of PhosphonicS
over the last three years (averaging end of year returns for 2010 - 2012)
was £1.3m [g].
In February 2013 Seventure Partners invested a further £2.1 million into
PhosphonicS. To date, the company has raised approximately £9 million of
private equity investment over 10 years of trading. The investment is
facilitating ongoing acceleration of the launch of the precious metal
scavenger product range in numerous international markets, especially
mining and petrochemical, and to invest in co-developing some major
catalyst applications with industry clients.
Sources to corroborate the impact
a) Spin-out company website: www.phosphonics.com
b) Details of Precious Metal Recovery Case Studies from PhosphonicS
c) Details of purification of small molecules case studies from
PhosphonicS clients, which include Astra Zenica, Global Pharmaceutical
Company, Exelixis and Clauson Kaas:
d) Strategic agreement with Hiraeus: www.phosphonics.com/1/post/2011/08/first-post.html
e) PhosphonicS company profile: www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2012/05/support-specialists
f) PhosphonicS product overview: www.sigmaaldrich.com/technical-documents/articles/chemfiles/phosphonics-heterogeneous.html
g) PhosphonicS publically available account information for the company
showing net worth: