Fluorinated compounds are widely used in our daily life and their applications range from electronics, textiles, aluminium production and petroleum refining to agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. That last one might surprise you – adding one or more fluorine to a molecule can affect, among many other properties, the stability of a drug and thereby modulate its properties such as absorption and metabolism (e.g. how quickly the drug is broken down).
Fluorinated compounds comprise a significant proportion of all chemicals produced today, with an estimated 20% of all marketed drugs and approximately 30% of agrochemicals. Fluorochemicals are currently produced via an energy-intensive process that involves the production and transport of hydrogen fluoride (HF) as a key intermediate. This gas is made by adding sulphuric acid to the naturally occurring mineral, fluorite (fluorspar), at temperatures of 300–400 °C. HF comes with challenges – it’s highly corrosive, extremely toxic, dangerous and environmentally unfriendly – but with lightly fluorinated compounds here to stay, what can we do?
A team of scientists led by Moissan-prize winner Professor Véronique Gouverneur FRS together with Dr Gabriele Pupo, both originating from the Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford, is working to deliver rapid solutions to this problem.
“We’ve been building on more than twenty years of research and expertise in fluorination chemistry from the Gouverneur labs to find solutions towards HF-free fluorinations. This has evolved quickly in the last couple of years thanks to having the right people and the right knowledge in the right place and time, plus a pinch of luck,” said Gabriele Pupo, “This combination has enabled us to progress rapidly, much faster than originally anticipated.”
Gabriele Pupo is now CEO of FluoRok, with Prof. Véronique Gouverneur a co-founder and consultant for the company. Created in 2022 with the support of Oxford Science Enterprises and Oxford University Innovation (OUI), FluoRok is a spin-out of the University of Oxford.
The company’s mission? Revolutionise the way fluorochemicals are produced worldwide. Based at Begbroke Science Park, Oxford, the team is developing HF-free fluorination processes that are safer, environmentally conscious, require less energy, are less expensive, more efficient, and sustainable.
Gabriele Pupo says:
You’ve got to have the big picture and broad vision. Think big and work hard on solutions with the potential to disrupt an entire sector.
That’s just what FluoRok is doing.
Apply for funnding to develop your innovative idea: The Department of Chemistry, in partnership with Oxford University Innovation (OUI), is seeking Oxford Chemistry students with innovative, game-changing ideas based on their research to take part in the Jamie Ferguson Chemistry Innovation Awards 2023. Following last year’s success of the inaugural awards, affectionately known as the Jamies, this year’s competition is now open for applications.
If you’re interested in other opportunities to commercialise your research find out more from Oxford University Innovation. Follow OUI on LinkedIn and Twitter.