Mechanistic insights on the hydrogenation of α,β-unsaturated ketones and aldehydes to unsaturated alcohols over metal catalysts

Matthew S. Ide, Bing Hao, Matthew Neurock, Robert J. Davis

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210 Scopus citations


The selective hydrogenation of unsaturated ketones (methyl vinyl ketone and benzalacetone) and unsaturated aldehydes (crotonaldehyde and cinnamaldehyde) was carried out with H 2 at 2 bar absolute over Pd/C, Pt/C, Ru/C, Au/C, Au/TiO 2, or Au/Fe 2O 3 catalysts in ethanol or water solvent at 333 K. Comparison of the turnover frequencies revealed Pd/C to be the most active hydrogenation catalyst, but the catalyst failed to produce unsaturated alcohols, indicating hydrogenation of the C = C bond was highly preferred over the C = O bond on Pd. The Pt and Ru catalysts were able to produce unsaturated alcohols from unsaturated aldehydes, but not from unsaturated ketones. Although Au/Fe 2O 3 was able to partially hydrogenate unsaturated ketones to unsaturated alcohols, the overall hydrogenation rate over gold was the lowest of all of the metals examined. First-principles density functional theory calculations were therefore used to explore the reactivity trends of methyl vinyl ketone (MVK) and benzalacetone (BA) hydrogenation over model Pt(111) and Ru(0001) surfaces. The observed selectivity over these metals is likely controlled by the significantly higher activation barriers to hydrogenate the C = O bond compared with those required to hydrogenate the C = C bond. Both the unsaturated alcohol and the saturated ketone, which are the primary reaction products, are strongly bound to Ru and can react further to the saturated alcohol. The lower calculated barriers for the hydrogenation steps over Pt compared with Ru account for the higher observed turnover frequencies for the hydrogenation of MVK and BA over Pt. The presence of a phenyl substituent α to the C = C bond in BA increased the barrier for C = C hydrogenation over those associated with the C = C bond in MVK; however, the increase in barriers with phenyl substitution was not adequate to reverse the selectivity trend.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-683
Number of pages13
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 6 2012


  • density functional theory
  • gold
  • palladium
  • platinum
  • ruthenium
  • selective hydrogenation
  • α,β-unsaturated aldehydes
  • α,β-unsaturated ketones


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