Volume No. 5 Issue No.: 3 Page No.: 495-508 January-March 2011

 

THE ROLE OF SURFACTANTS AND THEIR INTERMEDIATES IN ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMISTRY

 

P. Caumul

Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Reduit (MAURITIUS)

 

Received on : November 13, 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

Surfactants are chemical compounds that are ampiphilic in nature because of their dual nature of being both hydrophobic (due to their long hydrocarbon chains) and hydrophilic (due to their polar head groups). Because of their dual nature, they can have partial solubility in both organic and aqueous media. This paper will outline and review the role that surfactants play in environmental chemistry. As well as being good cleaning agents and lubricants, our work has demonstrated that they can act as good catalysts in aqueous media where they have several advantages over conventional solvents in terms of yields and rate enhancement. This is of particular interest since organic reactions generally rely on using toxic solvents and reagents, so a more environmentally friendly technology in chemistry is required to run organic reactions in aqueous media. Our research work has made use of a range of different natural product derivatives as catalysts. We are currently investigating the role of the amino acid phenylalanine since previous work using this backbone as a catalyst has been successfully reported. We will present our preliminary studies where we have used analogues of phenylalanine as catalysts in aqueous media. In addition, we will also outline the role of surfactants in reducing heavy metal toxicity since they can act as good chelating agents. As we are aware, heavy metal exposure in the 21st century is a global health concern. Metals such as mercury, lead and copper have been found to be prevalent in seawater and landfills. Hence new ways are being developed to remove heavy metal toxicity. We will therefore demonstrate the use of our synthetic analogues derived from phenylalanine to investigate their binding effect with a view to synthesise good chelating ligands derived from surfactants which can coordinate and dispose of the metal. The fact that the surfactants are ampiphilic means that this would be an advantage in the removal of toxic metals.

 

Keywords : Micelles, Critical micelle concentration, Catalysis, Heavy metal pollution, Heavy metal toxicity, Metal coordination

 

 

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