Catalytic mechanism of acetic and isobutyric acids mixture conversion into two symmetrical and one cross-ketone product on monoclinic zirconia (111) surface was extensively modeled by Density Functional Theory for periodic structures. Several options were evaluated for each mechanistic step by calculating their reaction rate constants. The best option for each kinetically relevant step was chosen by matching calculated rates of reaction with experimental values.
Four zirconium surface atoms define each catalytic site. The most favorable pathway includes condensation between surface carboxylates, one of which is enolized through alpha-hydrogen abstraction by lattice oxygen. Condensation of gas phase molecules with the enolized carboxylate on surface is less attainable.
The kinetic scheme considers all steps being reversible, except for decarboxylation. The equilibrium constant of the enolization step and the rate constant of the condensation step define the global reaction rate for non-bulky acetic acid. For bulky isobutyric acid, decarboxylation step is added to the kinetic scheme as kinetically significant, while hydrocarbonate departure may also compete with the decarboxylation. Electronic and steric effect of alkyl substituents on the decarboxylation step is disclosed.
The cross-selectivity is controlled by both condensation and decarboxylation steps. None of the mechanistic steps require metal oxide to be reducible/oxidizable.
Ignatchenko, Alexey; McSally, James P.; Bishop, Marc D.; and Zweigle, Joshua (2017). "Ab initio study of the mechanism of carboxylic acids cross-ketonization on monoclinic zirconia via condensation to beta-keto acids followed by decarboxylation." Journal of Molecular Catalysis 441, 35-62.
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