Aldol Condensation and Esterification over Ti-Substituted *BEA Zeolite: Mechanisms and Effects of Pore Hydrophobicity

Zhongyao Zhang, Claudia E. Berdugo-Díaz, Daniel T. Bregante, Hongbo Zhang, David W. Flaherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aldol condensation and esterification reactions provide paths to upgrade ethanol and acetaldehyde to higher-value molecules useful as fuels or intermediates for the synthesis of polymers. Transition-metal-substituted BEA zeolites (M-BEA) catalyze these reactions; however, the mechanisms for these processes in M-BEA and the effects of incidental or purposefully included silanol groups are not reported. Here, we combine kinetic and spectroscopic measurements obtained during catalytic reactions of acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), ethanol (C2H5OH), and hydrogen (H2) mixtures over a series of Ti-BEA catalysts that possess a known range of silanol group densities to examine the kinetic relevance of intervening steps and the impact of silanol groups on catalytic rates. Across all Ti-BEA, rates for aldol condensation and esterification increase with the pressure of CH3CHO; however, C2H5OH and H2O weakly inhibit the rates of these reactions. The substitution of CD3CDO for CH3CHO decreases aldol condensation rates slightly (∼10%) but leads to greater esterification rates (2- to 5-fold). The kinetic isotope effects together with the measured dependence of rates on reactant pressures suggest that aldol condensation and esterification occur on unoccupied Ti sites and involve multiple kinetically relevant steps. CH3CHO deprotonates irreversibly, and the kinetically relevant nucleophilic attack of the enolate to CH3CHO∗ (i.e., adsorbed CH3CHO on Ti sites) leads to aldol products, while the nucleophilic attack of the enolate to C2H5OH∗ gives esters. Selectivities toward aldol condensation increase with the ratio of CH3CHO to C2H5OH pressure and with increases in the silanol density of the as-synthesized Ti-BEA. During catalysis, in situ infrared spectroscopy demonstrates that these silanol groups react with C2H5OH to form ethoxysilane groups (i.e., SiOC2H5) that modify the polarity of the environment near Ti active sites. As initial silanol densities increase, steady-state turnover rates for aldol condensation and esterification increase by factors of 5 and 2, respectively. The changes in rates and selectivities among Ti-BEA catalysts likely reflect changes in excess free energies of transition states for enolization and nucleophilic attack of the enolate to adsorbed coreactants. The differences in excess stability report on the interactions among reactive intermediates at framework Ti atoms and the ethoxysilane and remaining silanol groups present. The in situ modification of these pore environments confers changes in the stability of reactive species in a manner that contradicts intuition when considering the initial state of the catalyst but can be reconciled after accounting for the formation of persistent alkoxy surface moieties in the pores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1481-1496
Number of pages16
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 21 2022


  • alkoxysilane
  • hydrophobicity
  • in situ spectroscopy
  • kinetic isotope effect
  • mechanism
  • silanol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry


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