Quantifying the Stability of the Hydronium Ion in Organic Solvents With Molecular Dynamics Simulations.Front Chem. 2019; 7:439.FC
The solution-phase stability of the hydronium ion catalyst significantly affects the rates of acid-catalyzed reactions, which are ubiquitously utilized to convert biomass to valuable chemicals. In this work, classical molecular dynamics simulations were performed to quantify the stability of hydronium and chloride ions by measuring their solvation free energies in water, 1,4-dioxane (DIOX), tetrahydrofuran (THF), γ-valerolactone (GVL), N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), acetone (ACE), and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). By measuring the free energy for transferring a hydronium ion from pure water to pure organic solvent, we found that the hydronium ion is destabilized in DIOX, THF, and GVL and stabilized in NMP, ACE, and DMSO relative to water. The distinction between these organic solvents can be used to predict the preference of the hydronium ion for specific regions in aqueous mixtures of organic solvents. We then incorporated the stability of the hydronium ion into a correlative model for the acid-catalyzed conversion of 1,2-propanediol to propanal. The revised model is able to predict experimental reaction rates across solvent systems with different organic solvents. These results demonstrate the ability of classical molecular dynamics simulations to screen solvent systems for improved acid-catalyzed reaction performance.