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Aldol condensation among acetaldehyde and ethanol reactants on TiO2: Experimental evidence for the kinetically relevant nucleophilic attack of enolates

Zhang, Hongbo, Ibrahim, Malek Y.S., Flaherty, David W.
Journal of catalysis 2018 v.361 pp. 290-302
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Lewis acids, Lewis bases, acetaldehyde, condensation reactions, ethanol, hydrogen, isotopes, pyridines, titanium dioxide
Combinations of rate measurements as functions of reactant pressures, in situ infrared spectroscopy, comparisons of kinetic isotope effects, and rate inhibition effects provide experimental evidence that aldol condensation of acetaldehyde proceeds by kinetically relevant nucleophilic attack of a reactive enolate upon an acetaldehyde molecule over anatase TiO2. Steady-state turnover rates of aldol condensation measured as a function of the pressures of C2H4O, C2H5OH, H2O, and H2 between 503 K and 537 K show that rates reflect a second order dependence on C2H4O pressure and an inverse second order dependence on the C2H5OH pressure at the lowest C2H4O-to-C2H5OH ratios. Infrared spectra obtained in situ show that the exposed cationic Ti-atoms that facilitate aldol addition on TiO2 surfaces are saturated with C2H5OH∗ species and C2H4O∗ coverages are much smaller. In addition, aldol rates increase when C2D4O replaces C2H4O as a reactant, which likely reflects an inverse, secondary isotope effect caused by rehybridization of C-atoms at the transition state that forms a CC bond between two reactive intermediates derived from acetaldehyde. These results suggest that the kinetically relevant step is a bimolecular surface reaction, specifically the nucleophilic attack of an enolate onto a vicinal C2H4O∗ species. This conclusion is consistent also with aldol condensation rates that decrease with an inverse second order dependence on pyridine (C5H5N) pressure, because C5H5N displaces C2H4O from the two Lewis acid sites involved in the kinetically relevant step (confirmed by in situ FTIR). Comparisons to recent reports on the mechanism of this reaction on anatase TiO2 indicate that the presence of high coverages of C2H5OH∗ causes nucleophilic attack to become the kinetically relevant step by significantly reducing the number of enolate-acetaldehyde reactant pairs upon the surface.