Reaction mechanism of monoethanolamine with CO2 in aqueous solution from molecular modeling

Hong Bin Xie, Yanzi Zhou, Yingkai Zhang, J. Karl Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a theoretical study of the reaction mechanism of monoethanolamine (MEA) with CO2 in an aqueous solution. We have used molecular orbital reaction pathway calculations to compute reaction free energy landscapes for the reaction steps involved in the formation of carbamic acids and carbamates. We have used the conductor-like polarizable continuum model to calculate reactant, product, and transition state geometries and vibrational frequencies within density functional theory (DFT). We have also computed single point energies for all stationary structures using a coupled cluster approach with singles, doubles, and perturbational triple excitations using the DFT geometries. Our calculations indicate that a two-step reaction mechanism that proceeds via a zwitterion intermediate to form carbamate is the most favorable reaction channel. The first step, leading to formation of the zwitterion, is found to be rate-determining, and the activation free energies are 12.0 (10.2) and 11.3 (9.6) kcal/mol using Pauling (Bondi) radii within the CPCM model at the CCSD(T)/6-311++G(d,p) and CCSD(T)/6-311++G(2df,2p) levels of theory, respectively, using geometries and vibrational frequencies obtained at the B3LYP/6-311++G(d,p) level of theory. These results are in reasonable agreement with the experimental value of about 12 kcal/mol. The second step is an acid-base reaction between a zwitterion and MEA. We have developed a microkinetic model to estimate the effective reaction order at intermediate concentrations. Our model predicts an equilibrium concentration for the zwitterion on the order of 10-11 mol/L, which explains why the existence of the zwitterion intermediate has never been detected experimentally. The effective reaction order from our model is close to unity, also in agreement with experiments. Complementary ab initio QM/MM molecular dynamics simulations with umbrella sampling have been carried out to determine the free energy profiles of zwitterion formation and proton transfer in solution; the results confirm that the formation of the zwitterion is rate-determining.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11844-11852
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number43
StatePublished - Nov 4 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Reaction mechanism of monoethanolamine with CO2 in aqueous solution from molecular modeling'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this