The central role of ketones in reversible and irreversible hydrothermal organic functional group transformations

Ziming Yang, Ian Gould, Lynda Williams, Hilairy Hartnett, Everett Shock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Studies of hydrothermal reactions involving organic compounds suggest complex, possibly reversible, reaction pathways that link functional groups from reduced alkanes all the way to oxidized carboxylic acids. Ketones represent a critical functional group because they occupy a central position in the reaction pathway, at the point where CC bond cleavage is required for the formation of the more oxidized carboxylic acids. The mechanisms for the critical bond cleavage reactions in ketones, and how they compete with other reactions are the focus of this experimental study. We studied a model ketone, dibenzylketone (DBK), in H2O at 300°C and 70MPa for up to 528h. Product analysis was performed as a function of time at low DBK conversions to reveal the primary reaction pathways. Reversible interconversion between ketone, alcohol, alkene and alkane functional groups is observed in addition to formation of radical coupling products derived from irreversible CC and CH homolytic bond cleavage. The product distributions are time-dependent but the bond cleavage products dominate. The major products that accumulate at longer reaction times are toluene and larger, dehydrogenated structures that are initially formed by radical coupling. The hydrogen atoms generated by dehydrogenation of the coupling products are predominantly consumed in the formation of toluene. Even though bond cleavage products dominate, no carboxylic acids were observed on the timescale of the reactions under the chosen experimental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-65
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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