Universal kinetic solvent effects in acid-catalyzed reactions of biomass-derived oxygenates

Theodore W. Walker, Alex K. Chew, Huixiang Li, Benginur Demir, Z. Conrad Zhang, George W. Huber, Reid C. Van Lehn, James A. Dumesic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


The rates of Brønsted-acid-catalyzed reactions of ethyl tert-butyl ether, tert-butanol, levoglucosan, 1,2-propanediol, fructose, cellobiose, and xylitol were measured in solvent mixtures of water with three polar aprotic cosolvents: γ-valerolactone; 1,4-dioxane; and tetrahydrofuran. As the water content of the solvent environment decreases, reactants with more hydroxyl groups have higher catalytic turnover rates for both hydrolysis and dehydration reactions. We present classical molecular dynamics simulations to explain these solvent effects in terms of three simulation-derived observables: (1) the extent of water enrichment in the local solvent domain of the reactant; (2) the average hydrogen bonding lifetime between water molecules and the reactant; and (3) the fraction of the reactant accessible surface area occupied by hydroxyl groups, all as a function of solvent composition. We develop a model, constituted by linear combinations of these three observables, that predicts experimentally determined rate constants as a function of solvent composition for the entire set of acid-catalyzed reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-628
Number of pages12
JournalEnergy and Environmental Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Pollution


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