Mechanisms of catalytic cleavage of benzyl phenyl ether in aqueous and apolar phases

Jiayue He, Lu Lu, Chen Zhao, Donghai Mei, Johannes A. Lercher

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116 Scopus citations


Catalytic pathways for the cleavage of ether bonds in benzyl phenyl ether (BPE) in liquid phase using Ni- and zeolite-based catalysts are explored. In the absence of catalysts, the C-O bond is selectively cleaved in water by hydrolysis, forming phenol and benzyl alcohol as intermediates, followed by alkylation. The hydronium ions catalyzing the reactions are provided by the dissociation of water at 523 K. Upon addition of HZSM-5, rates of hydrolysis and alkylation are markedly increased in relation to proton concentrations. In the presence of Ni/SiO2, the selective hydrogenolysis dominates for cleaving the Caliphatic-O bond. Catalyzed by the dual-functional Ni/HZSM-5, hydrogenolysis occurs as the major route rather than hydrolysis (minor route). In apolar undecane, the non-catalytic thermal pyrolysis route dominates. Hydrogenolysis of BPE appears to be the major reaction pathway in undecane in the presence of Ni/SiO2 or Ni/HZSM-5, almost completely suppressing radical reactions. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations strongly support the proposed C-O bond cleavage mechanisms on BPE in aqueous and apolar phases. These calculations show that BPE is initially protonated and subsequently hydrolyzed in the aqueous phase. DFT calculations suggest that the radical reactions in non-polar solvents lead to primary benzyl and phenoxy radicals in undecane, which leads to heavier condensation products as long as metals are absent for providing dissociated hydrogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-51
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Catalysis
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Alkylation
  • Ether cleavage
  • Hydrogenolysis
  • Hydrolysis
  • Lignin
  • Pyrolysis


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