Solvated Past the Finish Line

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Science  08 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6039, pp. 138
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6039.138-d

As concerns mount about the adverse impact of atmospheric CO2 on climate, there is increasing interest in diverting some of the greenhouse gas toward use as a feedstock for the industrial preparation of commodity chemicals. One promising reaction in this vein is hydrogenation to formic acid (HCOOH). This process is enthalpically favorable, but the entropic penalty for turning two gases into one liquid molecule pushes the overall equilibrium back toward the reactant side. Amines can deliver an enthalpic kick by deprotonating the acid. Schaub and Paciello found, however, that when trihexylamine is used as a base for ease of product isolation, the kick isn't quite vigorous enough. Adding a diol solvent inches the reaction over the line to thermodynamic favorability, presumably by stabilizing the ionic products through hydrogen bonding.

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 50, 10.1002/anie.201101292 (2011).

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