Reactivity of Organic Compounds in Hot Water: Geochemical and Technological Implications

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Science  11 Oct 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5029, pp. 231-237
DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5029.231


Understanding of the reactivity of organic molecules in hot water is developing from studies aimed at explaining how organic matter (kerogen) forms in natural environments and then breaks down into energy source materials. In natural systems where kerogens are depolymerized, hot water is ubiquitous and usually contains salt and minerals. Reactions such as ionic condensation, cleavage, and hydrolysis are facilitated by changes in the chemical and physical properties of water as temperature increases. These changes make the solvent properties of water at high temperature similar to those of polar organic solvents at room temperature, thus facilitating reactions with organic compounds. An understanding of aqueous organic chemistry may lead to potential applications in areas as diverse as the recycling of plastics, the synthesis of chemicals, and coal liquefaction.