In Chemical Reactions, Water Adds Speed Without Heat

Adding trace amounts of water can really speed up chemical reactions such as hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis. Hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis reactions have a large impact on many key industrial sectors, including the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and agricultural industries. Many researchers have observed that water can accelerate chemical reactions in which hydrogen is a reactant or a product. Water makes hydrogen diffuse 10,000 trillion times faster on metal oxides than it would have diffused in the absence of water. Without water, heat is needed to speed up that motion. When water is present, hydrogen diffuses by a proton transfer, or proton “hopping,” mechanism, in which hydrogen atoms from the oxide surface jump onto nearby water molecules and make hydronium ions, which then deliver their extra proton to the oxide surface and liberate a water molecule.

Katie Brockway

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