Mesoporous solids including silicas and acid-treated clays can be functionalised at their surfaces so as to provide high local concentrations of active sites. These sites can be introduced by post-modification or via sol-gel preparations. In this way a range of novel materials with useful catalytic and other properties can be prepared. One of the most valuable applications for these materials is as replacements for environmentally hazardous reagents including corrosive mineral and Lewis acids, caustic bases and toxic metallic compounds. © 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.