The oxidation of alcohols to the corresponding carbonyl compounds is a pivotal reaction in organic synthesis. However, traditional oxidants are often toxic and release considerable amounts of by-products. As an alternative, oxygen (or even better air) is among the cheaper and less polluting stoichiometric oxidants, since it produces no waste or water as the sole by-product. The implementation of a transition metal-based catalyst in combination with oxygen represents an emerging alternative to the traditional procedures. This review aims to give an overview on the most important advances made by the scientific community in the last 15 years in the field of aerobic oxidations of alcohols catalyzed by transition metals in the form of homogeneous catalysts, heterogeneous catalysts and, more recently, nanoparticles.
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