Kolbe's method

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A method of making alkanes by electrolysing a solution of a carboxylic acid salt. For a salt Na+RCOO, the carboxylate ions lose electrons at the cathode to give radicals:RCOO – e → RCOO· These decompose to give alkyl radicals RCOO· → R·+CO2 Two alkyl radicals couple to give an alkane R·+R· → RR The method can only be used for hydrocarbons with an even number of carbon atoms, although mixtures of two salts can be electrolysed to give a mixture of three products. The method was discovered by the German chemist Herman Kolbe (1818–84), who electrolysed pentanoic acid (C4H9COOH) in 1849 and obtained a hydrocarbon, which he assumed was the substance ‘butyl’ C4H9 (actually octane, C8H18).

RCOO – e → RCOO·

RCOO· → R·+CO2

R·+R· → RR

Subjects: Chemistry.

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