Real-Time Observation of Carbonic Acid Formation in Aqueous Solution

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Science  18 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5960, pp. 1690-1694
DOI: 10.1126/science.1180060

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Despite the widespread importance of aqueous bicarbonate chemistry, its conjugate acid, carbonic acid, has remained uncharacterized in solution. Here we report the generation of deuterated carbonic acid in deuterium oxide solution by ultrafast protonation of bicarbonate and its persistence for nanoseconds. We follow the reaction dynamics upon photoexcitation of a photoacid by monitoring infrared-active marker modes with femtosecond time resolution. By fitting a kinetic model to the experimental data, we directly obtain the on-contact proton-transfer rate to bicarbonate, previously inaccessible with the use of indirect methods. A Marcus free-energy correlation supports an associated pKa (Ka is the acid dissociation constant) of 3.45 ± 0.15, which is substantially lower than the value of 6.35 that is commonly assumed on the basis of the overall carbon dioxide–to–bicarbonate equilibrium. This result should spur further exploration of acid-base reactivity in carbon dioxide–rich aqueous environments such as those anticipated under sequestration schemes.

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