We make better materials in more sustainable ways.
The overarching mission of the Unterlass lab is to develop sustainable routes towards advanced materials and small molecules. We believe that various chemical compounds are necessary to address the various challenges of human life. Humankind needs small molecules to treat disease, advanced materials for green energy solutions such as photovoltaics or batteries. At the same time, chemical synthesis and production are at large still harmful to the environment and human health. Furthermore, process intensification, which is a major vehicle towards reducing the energy consumption of chemical synthesis, is rendered difficult by the high number of different processes required to generate the variety of chemical compounds humankind needs.
Our work focuses on sustainable synthesis and processing using water as medium. Our focus on water is based on the central hypothesis that water is able to be a near-universal solvent for chemical synthesis and processing. By performing research towards establishing synthesis in water as a core technology, process intensification is made easier without compromising chemical diversity. Furthermore, water is neither harmful to the environment nor toxic and saline water resources on Earth are essentially infinite. We could already show on several occasions that hydrothermal synthesis, i. e., using hot liquid water as solvent, allows for making a variety of high-performance polymers relevant to applications in aeronautics and microelectronics, small molecules of interest to biology/medicine and/or for optoelectronics, and inorganic-organic hybrid materials. Together with several industry partners, we are working on the translation of these findings to application. The fundamental aspects of our research are centered on the discovery of new synthesis in water and the mechanistic understanding of these chemical reactions. We are employing modern computational and automation approaches for being maximally efficient towards our goals.