November 17, 2020
Journal Article

The Role of Protons and Hydrides in the Catalytic Hydrogenolysis of Guaiacol at the Ruthenium Nanoparticle-water Interface

Junnan Shangguan
Alyssa Hensley
Niklas Pfriem
Jean-Sabin McEwen
Robert Morris
Ya-Huei Chin
Matthew Gradiski


The mechanistic roles of free hydronium ions, surface hydrides, and interfacial protons during guaiacol hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) on ruthenium nanoparticles are established. As guaiacol adsorbs on Ru, it loses its strong aromaticity and undergoes a rapid H-shift from its hydroxyl to meta carbons (in relation to its hydroxyl group), leading enol and keto surface isomers to exist in chemical equilibrium. HDO occurs via a hydridic H-adatom (H*) attack to the enol, followed by a kinetically relevant C-O bond rupture step, during which water shuttles the hydroxyl proton, enabling its intramolecular attack to the methoxy, evolving a high charged [Ru(s)-(C6H5O-)…(H+)…OCH3]† transition state. The competing HYD begins with a rapid H* attack to the keto, before a second, kinetically relevant H* attack, without proton involvement. Water, despite shifting the thermodynamics towards the more polar surface keto, promotes HDO to a much greater extent than HYD, because of its dual catalytic roles—it mobilizes hydroxyl proton (Brønsted acid) to cleave the strong C-O bond, synchronizing with the Ru metal surface (base) function that stabilizes the resulting [Ru(s)-(C6H5O-)…(H+)…OCH3]† transition state, and the water layers solvate this charged transition state, further reducing its free energy. Free hydronium ions do catalyze a separate homogeneous enol-keto isomerization, but this reaction is kinetically unrelated to HDO catalysis. This mechanistic picture explains the strong effects of polar protic solvent in hydrodeoxygenation, highlighting (i) the requirements of surface hydrides and interfacial protons acting in tandem to complete a HDO turnover and (ii) the cooperative role of protic solvent and metal surface in breaking the aromaticity and stabilizing charged reactive precursors and transition states.

Revised: November 17, 2020 | Published: October 16, 2020


Shangguan J., A. Hensley, M.V. Gradiski, N. Pfriem, J. McEwen, R.H. Morris, and Y. Chin. 2020. "The Role of Protons and Hydrides in the Catalytic Hydrogenolysis of Guaiacol at the Ruthenium Nanoparticle-water Interface." ACS Catalysis 10, no. 20:12310–12332. PNNL-SA-152589. doi:10.1021/acscatal.0c01963