A research team led by San Diego State University chemists Xiaolin Zhu and Yong Yan has shown that perovskite materials methylammonium lead tribromide and the cesium analog are not only two of the most studied solar-cell perovskites, but can also function as highly active photocatalysts for organic synthesis.

Perovskites catalyze aldehyde alkylations image

The researchers used standard methods to prepare the low-cost nanocrystal catalysts and explored their reactivity under blue-light illumination in tests with 2-bromoacetophenone and octanal. The reactions generated a mixture of products, including the aldehyde α-alkylation product, other C-coupling products, and dehalogenated acetophenone.

By tuning reaction conditions, the team was able to boost the selectivity of the α-alkylation reaction to 96%. The perovskites have been found to be 1,000 times as active as some iridium- and ruthenium-based catalysts and only a fraction of the cost, the team said.