The effect of alkyl chain length on the degradation of alkylimidazolium- and pyridinium-type ionic liquids in a Fenton-like system

Ewa M Siedlecka, Piotr Stepnowski
Environmental Science and Pollution Research International 2009, 16 (4): 453-8

BACKGROUND, AIM, AND SCOPE: Ionic liquids are regarded as essentially "green" chemicals because of their insignificant vapor pressure and, hence, are a good alternative to the emissions of toxic conventional volatile solvents. Not only because of their attractive industrial applications, but also due to their very high stability, ionic liquids could soon become persistent contaminants of technological wastewaters and, moreover, break through into natural waters following classical treatment systems. The removal of harmful organic pollutants has forced the development of new methodologies known as advanced oxidation processes (AOPs). Among them, the Fenton and Fenton-like reactions are usually modified by the use of a higher hydrogen peroxide concentration and through different catalysts. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of hydrogen peroxide concentration on degradation rates in a Fenton-like system of alkylimidazolium ionic liquids with alkyl chains of varying length and 3-methyl-N-butylpyridinium chloride.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The ionic liquids were oxidized in dilute aqueous solution in the presence of two different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. All reactions were performed in the dark to prevent photoreduction of Fe(III). The concentrations of ionic liquids during the process were monitored with high-performance liquid chromatography. Preliminary degradation pathways were studied with the aid of (1)H NMR.

RESULTS: Degradation of ionic liquids in this system was quite effective. Increasing the H(2)O(2) concentration from 100 to 400 mM improved ionic liquid degradation from 57-84% to 87-100% after 60 min reaction time. Resistance to degradation was weaker, the shorter the alkyl chain.

DISCUSSION: The compound omimCl was more resistant to oxidation then other compounds, which suggests that the oxidation rates of imidazolium ionic liquids by OH. are structure-dependent and are correlated with the n-alkyl chain length substituted at the N-1-position. The level of degradation was dependent on the type of head group. Replacing the imidazolium head group with pyridinium increased resistance to degradation. Nonetheless, lengthening the alkyl chain from four to eight carbons lowered the rate of ionic liquid degradation to a greater extent than changing the head group from imidazolium to pyridinium. 1H-NMR spectra show, in the first stage of degradation, that it is likely that radical attack is nonspecific, with any one of the carbon atoms in the ring and the n-alkyl chain being susceptible to attack.

CONCLUSIONS: The proposed method has proven to be an efficient and reliable method for the degradation of imidazolium ionic liquids by a Fenton-like reagent deteriorated with lengthening n-alkyl substituents and by replacing the imidazolium head group with pyridinium. The enhanced resistance of 1-butyl-3-methylpyridinium chloride when the resistance of imidazolium ionic liquids decreases with increasing H(2)O(2) concentration is probably indicative of a change in the degradation mechanism in a vigorous Fenton-like system. H-NMR spectra showed, in the first stage of degradation, that radical attack is nonspecific, with any one of the carbon atoms in the ring and the n-alkyl chain being susceptible to attack.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES: Since ionic liquids are now one of the most promising alternative chemicals of the future, the degradation and waste management studies should be integrated into a general development research of these chemicals. In the case of imidazolium and pyridinium ionic liquids that are known to be resistant to bio- or thermal degradation, studies in the field of AOPs should assist the future structural design as well as tailor the technological process of these chemicals.

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