Wacker process

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A process for the manufacture of ethanal by the air oxidation of ethene. A mixture of air and ethene is bubbled through a solution containing palladium(II) chloride and copper(II) chloride. The Pd2+ ions form a complex with the ethene in which the ion is bound to the pi electrons in the C=C bond. This decreases the electron density in the bond, making it susceptible to nucleophilic attack by water molecules. The complex formed breaks down to ethanal and palladium metal. The Cu2+ ions oxidize the palladium back to Pd2+, being reduced to Cu+ ions in the process. The air present oxidizes Cu+ back to Cu2+. Thus the copper(II) and palladium(II) ions effectively act as catalysts in the process, which is now the main source of ethanal and, by further oxidation, ethanoic acid. It can also be applied to other alkenes. It is named after Alexander von Wacker (1846–1922).

Subjects: Chemistry.

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