Microwave chemistry

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Microwave chemistry is the science of applying microwave radiation to chemical reactions. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Microwaves act as high frequency electric fields and will generally heat any material containing mobile electric charges, such as polar molecules in a solvent or conducting ions in a solid. Polar solvents are heated as their component molecules are forced to rotate with the field and lose energy in collisions. Semiconducting and conducting samples heat when ions or electrons within them form an electric current and energy is lost due to the electrical resistance of the material. Microwave heating in the laboratory began to gain wide acceptance following papers in 1986, [6] although the use of microwave heating in chemical modification can be traced back to the 1950s. Although occasionally known by such acronyms as MAOS (Microwave-Assisted Organic Synthesis), [7] MEC (Microwave-Enhanced Chemistry) or MORE synthesis (Microwave-organic Reaction Enhancement), these acronyms have had little acceptance outside a small number of groups.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

Radiation Waves or particles propagating through space or through a medium, carrying energy

In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:

Electric field spatial distribution of vectors representing the force applied to a charged test particle

An electric field surrounds an electric charge, and exerts force on other charges in the field, attracting or repelling them. Electric field is sometimes abbreviated as E-field. The electric field is defined mathematically as a vector field that associates to each point in space the force per unit of charge exerted on an infinitesimal positive test charge at rest at that point. The SI unit for electric field strength is volt per meter (V/m). Newtons per coulomb (N/C) is also used as a unit of electric field strength. Electric fields are created by electric charges, or by time-varying magnetic fields. Electric fields are important in many areas of physics, and are exploited practically in electrical technology. On an atomic scale, the electric field is responsible for the attractive force between the atomic nucleus and electrons that holds atoms together, and the forces between atoms that cause chemical bonding. Electric fields and magnetic fields are both manifestations of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.


Heating effect

Conventional heating usually involves the use of a furnace or oil bath, which heats the walls of the reactor by convection or conduction. The core of the sample takes much longer to achieve the target temperature, e.g. when heating a large sample of ceramic bricks.

Acting as internal heat source, microwave absorption is able to heat the target compounds without heating the entire furnace or oil bath, which saves time and energy. [7] It is also able to heat sufficiently thin objects throughout their volume (instead of through its outer surface), in theory producing more uniform heating. However, due to the design of most microwave ovens and to uneven absorption by the object being heated, the microwave field is usually non-uniform and localized superheating occurs. Microwave volumetric heating (MVH) overcomes the uneven absorption by applying an intense, uniform microwave field.

In physics, superheating is the phenomenon in which a liquid is heated to a temperature higher than its boiling point, without boiling. This is a so-called metastable state or metastate, where boiling might occur at any time, induced by external or internal effects. Superheating is achieved by heating a homogeneous substance in a clean container, free of nucleation sites, while taking care not to disturb the liquid.

Microwave Volumetric Heating (MVH) is a method of using microwaves to evenly heat the entire volume of a flowing liquid, suspension or semi-solid. The process is known as MVH because the microwaves penetrate uniformly throughout the volume of the product being heated, thus delivering energy evenly into the body of the material.

Different compounds convert microwave radiation to heat by different amounts. This selectivity allows some parts of the object being heated to heat more quickly or more slowly than others (particularly the reaction vessel).

Microwave heating can have certain benefits over conventional ovens:

Reaction rate for a reactant or product in a particular reaction is intuitively defined as how quickly or slowly a reaction takes place

The reaction rate or rate of reaction is the speed at which reactants are converted into products. For example, the oxidative rusting of iron under Earth's atmosphere is a slow reaction that can take many years, but the combustion of cellulose in a fire is a reaction that takes place in fractions of a second. For most reactions, the rate decreases as the reaction proceeds.

Microwave chemistry is applied to organic chemistry [8] and to inorganic chemistry. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Selective heating

A heterogeneous system (comprising different substances or different phases) may be anisotropic if the loss tangents of the components are considered. As a result, it can be expected that the microwave field energy will be converted to heat by different amounts in different parts of the system. This inhomogeneous energy dissipation means selective heating of different parts of the material is possible, and may lead to temperature gradients between them. Nevertheless, the presence of zones with a higher temperature than others (called hot spots) must be subjected to the heat transfer processes between domains. Where the rate of heat conduction is high between system domains, hot spots would have no long-term existence as the components rapidly reach thermal equilibrium. In a system where the heat transfer is slow, it would be possible to have the presence of a steady state hot spot that may enhance the rate of the chemical reaction within that hot zone.

Dissipation is the result of an irreversible process that takes place in homogeneous thermodynamic systems. A dissipative process is a process in which energy is transformed from some initial form to some final form; the capacity of the final form to do mechanical work is less than that of the initial form. For example, heat transfer is dissipative because it is a transfer of internal energy from a hotter body to a colder one. Following the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy varies with temperature, but never decreases in an isolated system.

Heat transfer transport of thermal energy in physical systems

Heat transfer is a discipline of thermal engineering that concerns the generation, use, conversion, and exchange of thermal energy (heat) between physical systems. Heat transfer is classified into various mechanisms, such as thermal conduction, thermal convection, thermal radiation, and transfer of energy by phase changes. Engineers also consider the transfer of mass of differing chemical species, either cold or hot, to achieve heat transfer. While these mechanisms have distinct characteristics, they often occur simultaneously in the same system.

Two physical systems are in thermal equilibrium if there is no net flow of thermal energy between them when they are connected by a path permeable to heat. Thermal equilibrium obeys the zeroth law of thermodynamics. A system is said to be in thermal equilibrium with itself if the temperature within the system is spatially uniform and temporally constant.

On this basis, many early papers in microwave chemistry postulated the possibility of exciting specific molecules, or functional groups within molecules. However, the time within which thermal energy is repartitioned from such moieties is much shorter than the period of a microwave wave, thus precluding the presence of such 'molecular hot spots' under ordinary laboratory conditions. The oscillations produced by the radiation in these target molecules would be instantaneously transferred by collisions with the adjacent molecules, reaching at the same moment the thermal equilibrium. Processes with solid phases behave somewhat differently. In this case much higher heat transfer resistances are involved, and the possibility of the stationary presence of hot-spots should be contemplated. A differentiation between two kinds of hot spots has been noted in the literature, although the distinction is considered by many to be arbitrary. Macroscopic hot spots were considered to comprise all large non-isothermal volumes that can be detected and measured by use of optical pyrometers (optical fibre or IR). By these means it is possible to visualise thermal inhomogeneities within solid phases under microwave irradiation. Microscopic hot spots are non-isothermal regions that exist at the micro- or nanoscale (e.g. supported metal nanoparticles inside a catalyst pellet) or in the molecular scale (e.g. a polar group on a catalyst structure). The distinction has no serious significance, however, as microscopic hotspots such as those proposed to explain catalyst behaviour in several gas-phase catalytic reactions have been demonstrated by post-mortem methods [15] and in-situ methods. [16] Some theoretical and experimental approaches have been published towards the clarification of the hot spot effect in heterogeneous catalysts.

Pelletizing is the process of compressing or molding a material into the shape of a pellet. A wide range of different materials are pelletized including chemicals, iron ore, animal compound feed, plastics, and more.

A different specific application in synthetic chemistry is in the microwave heating of a binary system comprising a polar solvent and a non-polar solvent obtain different temperatures. Applied in a phase transfer reaction a water phase reaches a temperature of 100 °C while a chloroform phase would retain a temperature of 50 °C, providing the extraction as well of the reactants from one phase to the other. Microwave chemistry is particularly effective in dry media reactions.

Microwave effect

There are two general classes of microwave effects:

A review has proposed this definition [17] and examples of microwave effects in organic chemistry have been summarized. [18]

Specific microwave effects are those effects that cannot be (easily) emulated through conventional heating methods. Examples include: (i) selective heating of specific reaction components, (ii) rapid heating rates and temperature gradients, (iii) the elimination of wall effects, and (iv) the superheating of solvents. Microwave-specific effects tend not to be controversial and invoke "conventional" explanations (i.e. kinetic effects) for the observed effects. [19]

Non-thermal microwave effects have been proposed in order to explain unusual observations in microwave chemistry. As the name suggests, the effects are supposed not to require the transfer of microwave energy into thermal energy. Such effects are controversial.


Application of MW heating to heterogeneous catalysis reactions has not been explored intensively due to presence of metals in supported catalysts and possibility of arcing phenomena in the presence of flammable solvents. However, this scenario becomes unlikely using nanoparticle-sized metal catalysts. [7]

Related Research Articles

Catalysis chemical process

Catalysis is the process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance known as a catalyst, which is not consumed in the catalyzed reaction and can continue to act repeatedly. Because of this, only very small amounts of catalyst are required to alter the reaction rate in principle.

Chemical reaction Process that results in the interconversion of chemical species

A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the chemical transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Classically, chemical reactions encompass changes that only involve the positions of electrons in the forming and breaking of chemical bonds between atoms, with no change to the nuclei, and can often be described by a chemical equation. Nuclear chemistry is a sub-discipline of chemistry that involves the chemical reactions of unstable and radioactive elements where both electronic and nuclear changes can occur.

Phase (matter) Region of space (a thermodynamic system), throughout which all physical properties of a material are essentially uniform; region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, (often) mechanically separable

In the physical sciences, a phase is a region of space, throughout which all physical properties of a material are essentially uniform. Examples of physical properties include density, index of refraction, magnetization and chemical composition. A simple description is that a phase is a region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, and (often) mechanically separable. In a system consisting of ice and water in a glass jar, the ice cubes are one phase, the water is a second phase, and the humid air is a third phase over the ice and water. The glass of the jar is another separate phase.

Adsorption Adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a substance to a surface

Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. This process differs from absorption, in which a fluid is dissolved by or permeates a liquid or solid, respectively. Adsorption is a surface phenomenon, while absorption involves the whole volume of the material. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while desorption is the reverse of it.

Hydrogenation Chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element

Hydrogenation – meaning, to treat with hydrogen – is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen (H2) and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically constitutes the addition of pairs of hydrogen atoms to a molecule, often an alkene. Catalysts are required for the reaction to be usable; non-catalytic hydrogenation takes place only at very high temperatures. Hydrogenation reduces double and triple bonds in hydrocarbons.

Chemical kinetics, also known as reaction kinetics, is the branch of physical chemistry that is concerned with understanding the rates of chemical reactions. It is to be contrasted with thermodynamics, which deals with the direction in which a process occurs but in itself tells nothing about its rate. Chemical kinetics includes investigations of how different experimental conditions can influence the speed of a chemical reaction and yield information about the reaction's mechanism and transition states, as well as the construction of mathematical models that also can describe the characteristics of a chemical reaction.

Ionic liquid salt in the liquid state, largely made of ions and short-lived ion pairs (while ordinary liquids such as water and gasoline are predominantly made of electrically neutral molecules)

An ionic liquid (IL) is a salt in the liquid state. In some contexts, the term has been restricted to salts whose melting point is below some arbitrary temperature, such as 100 °C (212 °F). While ordinary liquids such as water and gasoline are predominantly made of electrically neutral molecules, ionic liquids are largely made of ions and short-lived ion pairs. These substances are variously called liquid electrolytes, ionic melts, ionic fluids, fused salts, liquid salts, or ionic glasses.

Ene reaction chemical reaction

The ene reaction is a chemical reaction between an alkene with an allylic hydrogen and a compound containing a multiple bond, in order to form a new σ-bond with migration of the ene double bond and 1,5 hydrogen shift. The product is a substituted alkene with the double bond shifted to the allylic position.

The Sonogashira reaction is a cross-coupling reaction used in organic synthesis to form carbon–carbon bonds. It employs a palladium catalyst as well as copper co-catalyst to form a carbon–carbon bond between a terminal alkyne and an aryl or vinyl halide.

Heterogeneous catalysis

Heterogeneous catalysis is the type of catalysis where the phase of the catalyst differs from the phase of the reactants. This contrasts with homogeneous catalysis where the reactants and catalyst exist in the same phase. Phase distinguishes between not only solid, liquid, and gas components, but also immiscible mixtures, or anywhere an interface is present. Catalysts are useful because they increase the rate of a reaction without themselves being consumed and are therefore reusable.

In chemistry, homogeneous catalysis is catalysis in a solution by a soluble catalyst. Homogeneous catalysis refers to catalytic reactions where the catalyst is in the same phase as the reactants. Homogeneous catalysis applies to reactions in the gas phase and even in solids. Heterogeneous catalysis is the alternative to homogeneous catalysis, where the catalysis occurs at the interface of two phases, typically gas-solid. The term is used almost exclusively to describe solutions and often implies catalysis by organometallic compounds.

In chemistry, a phase-transfer catalyst or PTC is a catalyst that facilitates the migration of a reactant from one phase into another phase where reaction occurs. Phase-transfer catalysis is a special form of heterogeneous catalysis. Ionic reactants are often soluble in an aqueous phase but insoluble in an organic phase in the absence of the phase-transfer catalyst. The catalyst functions like a detergent for solubilizing the salts into the organic phase. Phase-transfer catalysis refers to the acceleration of the reaction upon the addition of the phase-transfer catalyst.

Aliquat 336 chemical compound

Aliquat 336 (Starks' catalyst) is a quaternary ammonium salt used as a phase transfer catalyst and metal extraction reagent. It contains a mixture of C8 (octyl) and C10 (decyl) chains with C8 predominating. It is an ionic liquid.

Non-thermal microwave effects or specific microwave effects have been posited in order to explain unusual observations in microwave chemistry. The main effect of the absorption of microwaves by most materials is heating; the random motion of the constituent molecules is increased. Non-thermal effects are effects that are not due to the increase of thermal energy of the material. Instead, the microwave energy itself directly couples to energy modes within the molecule or lattice. Non-thermal effects in liquids are almost certainly non-existent, as the time for energy redistribution between molecules in a liquid is much less than the period of a microwave oscillation. A 2005 review has illustrated this in application to organic chemistry, though clearly supports the existence of non-thermal effects. It has been shown that such non-thermal effects exist in the reaction of O + HCl(DCl)->OH(OD)+Cl in the gas phase and the authors suggest that some mechanisms may also be present in the condensed phase. Non-thermal effects in solids are still part of an ongoing debate. It is likely that, through focusing of electric fields at particle interfaces, microwaves cause plasma formation and enhance diffusion in solids via second-order effects. As a result, they may enhance solid-state sintering processes. Debates continued in 2006 about non-thermal effects of microwaves that have been reported in solid-state phase transitions. A 2013 essay concluded the effect did not exist in organic synthesis involving liquid phases. A 2015 perspective discusses the non-thermal microwave effect in relation to selective heating by Debye relaxation processes.

Caesium carbonate chemical compound

Caesium carbonate or cesium carbonate is a white crystalline solid compound. Caesium carbonate has a high solubility in polar solvents such as water, alcohol and DMF. Its solubility is higher in organic solvents compared to other carbonates like potassium and sodium carbonates, although it remains quite insoluble in other organic solvents such as toluene, p-xylene, and chlorobenzene. This compound is used in organic synthesis as a base. It also appears to have applications in energy conversion.

Metal–organic framework

Metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) are a class of compounds consisting of metal ions or clusters coordinated to organic ligands to form one-, two-, or three-dimensional structures. They are a subclass of coordination polymers, with the special feature that they are often porous. The organic ligands included are sometimes referred to as "struts", one example being 1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid (BDC).

Max Planck Institute for Coal Research

The Max Planck Institute for Coal Research is an institute located in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany specializing in chemical research on catalysis. It is one of the 80 institutes in the Max Planck Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft). Founded in 1912 as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr to study the chemistry and uses of coal, it became an independent Max Planck Institute in 1949.

Physical organic chemistry, a term coined by Louis Hammett in 1940, refers to a discipline of organic chemistry that focuses on the relationship between chemical structures and reactivity, in particular, applying experimental tools of physical chemistry to the study of organic molecules. Specific focal points of study include the rates of organic reactions, the relative chemical stabilities of the starting materials, reactive intermediates, transition states, and products of chemical reactions, and non-covalent aspects of solvation and molecular interactions that influence chemical reactivity. Such studies provide theoretical and practical frameworks to understand how changes in structure in solution or solid-state contexts impact reaction mechanism and rate for each organic reaction of interest.

Zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) are a class of metal-organic frameworks that are topologically isomorphic with zeolites. ZIFs are composed of tetrahedrally-coordinated transition metal ions connected by imidazolate linkers. Since the metal-imidazole-metal angle is similar to the 145° Si-O-Si angle in zeolites, ZIFs have zeolite-like topologies. As of 2010, 105 ZIF topologies have been reported in the literature. Due to their robust porosity, resistance to thermal changes, and chemical stability, ZIF’s are being investigated for applications such as carbon capture.

Reactive flash volatilization (RFV) is a chemical process that rapidly converts nonvolatile solids and liquids to volatile compounds by thermal decomposition for integration with catalytic chemistries.


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