Mechanistic insights into the catalytic oxidation of carboxylic acids on Au/TiO2: Partial oxidation of propionic and butyric acid to gold ketenylidene through unsaturated acids

Monica McEntee, Wenjie Tang, Matthew Neurock, John T. Yates

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16 Scopus citations


The partial oxidation of model C2-C4 (acetic, propionic, and butyric) carboxylic acids on Au/TiO2 catalysts consisting of Au particles ∼3 nm in size was investigated using transmission infrared spectroscopy and density functional theory. All three acids readily undergo oxidative dehydrogenation on Au/TiO2. Propionic and butyric acid dehydrogenate at the C2-C3 positions, whereas acetic acid dehydrogenates at the C1-C2 position. The resulting acrylate and crotonate intermediates are subsequently oxidized to form β-keto acids that decarboxylate. All three acids form a gold ketenylidene intermediate, Au2C=C=O, along the way to their full oxidation to form CO2. Infrared measurements of Au2C=C=O formation as a function of time provides a surface spectroscopic probe of the kinetics for the activation and oxidative dehydrogenation of the alkyl groups in the carboxylate intermediates that form. The reaction proceeds via the dissociative adsorption of the acid onto TiO2, the adsorption and activation of O2 at the dual perimeter sites on the Au particles (Au-O-O-Ti), and the subsequent activation of the C2-H and C3-H bonds of the bound propionate and butyrate intermediates by the weakly bound and basic oxygen species on Au to form acrylate and crotonate intermediates, respectively. The C=C bond of the unsaturated acrylate and crotonate intermediates is readily oxidized to form an acid at the beta (C3) position, which subsequently decarboxylates. This occurs with an overall activation energy of 1.5-1.7 ± 0.2 eV, ultimately producing the Au2C=C=O species for all three carboxylates. The results suggest that the decrease in the rate in moving from acetic to propionic to butyric acid is due to an increase in the free energy of activation for the formation of the Au2C=C=O species on Au/TiO2 with an increasing size of the alkyl substituent. The formation of Au2C=C=O proceeds for carboxylic acids that are longer than C2 without a deuterium kinetic isotope effect, demonstrating that C-H bond scission is not involved in the rate-determining step; the rate instead appears to be controlled by C-O bond scission. The adsorbed Au2C=C=O intermediate species can be hydrogenated to produce ketene, H2C=C=O(g), with an activation energy of 0.21 ± 0.05 eV. These studies show that selective oxidative dehydrogenation of the alkyl side chains of fatty acids can be catalyzed by nanoparticle Au/TiO2 at temperatures near 400 K.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)744-753
Number of pages10
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 6 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Chemical Society.


  • Au/TiO
  • carboxylic acid oxidation
  • catalysis
  • decarboxylation
  • ketenylidene
  • oxidative-dehydrogenation


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