group of people smiling and looking at the camera
Assistant Professor Jakub Hyvl’s research group

As the price of metals surge amid fears of a supply disruption due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa project that earned a $670,000 National Science Foundation grant in 2021 has published groundbreaking results related to bismuth, a cheaper and non-toxic alternative to costly metals, such as platinum and palladium.

Department of Chemistry Assistant Professor Jakub Hyvl and his research team discovered a novel catalytic system for bismuth, that may become an alternative to transition metals such as platinum and palladium, metals widely used in catalytic converters to remove toxic agents, such as carbon monoxide and nitric oxides. The research was published by American Chemical Society Catalysis.

Bismuth is a non-toxic element and is 1,000 times cheaper than platinum. It is also commonly known as the main ingredient of Pepto-Bismol. Expanding the use of bismuth is a safer alternative, and has many potential applicable uses in the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

“Our group discovered a novel catalytic reaction for selective organofluorination, a transformation potentially useful in the pharmaceutical industry. This process is catalyzed by an organobismuth complex, a rather unusual catalyst, since the field is dominated by transition metal-based complexes. This work follows the recent trend in chemistry to move to more sustainable approaches utilizing earth abundant elements,” Hyvl said.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.