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Fenton’s Reaction

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What is Fenton’s Reaction?

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The reaction of Fenton is a reaction in which hydrogen peroxide is converted through a catalytic method into a hydroxyl free radical. The hydrogen peroxide reactant is normally formed by oxidative respiration from the mitochondria. It is important to note that during the Fenton reaction, the hydroxyl free radical is extremely toxic (due to its unstable and reactive nature). The reaction is named after Henry John Horstman Fenton, a British chemist.


Fenton’s Reagent

Fenton's reagent is a term used to describe a solution containing the ferrous ion of hydrogen peroxide (the Fe2+ cation in which iron has an oxidation state of +2). The ferrous ion serves as a catalyst and facilitates pollutants and wastewater oxidation. It can be noted that the Fenton reagent is normally prepared by dissolving iron(II) sulfate (FeSO4) in hydrogen peroxide.

For the degradation of such organic compounds such as tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, Fenton's reagent may be used. It should also be remembered that Henry Fenton invented Fenton's reagent as an analytical reagent in the 1890s.


Breakdown of Fenton’s Reaction

In the presence of hydrogen peroxide, which acts as an oxidizing agent, Fenton's response starts with the oxidation of the ferrous ion (Fe2+ cation) to the ferric ion (Fe3+ cation). This results in the formation of a hydroxide ion as byproducts and a hydroxyl free radical. The chemical equation is given below for this reaction.

Fe2+ + H2O2 → Fe3+ + OH + HO•

Now, in the next step of Fenton's reaction, in the presence of another hydrogen peroxide molecule, the ferric ion is reduced back into the ferrous ion. This results in the formation of a free radical of hydroperoxyl and a proton as the byproducts. The ferrous ion catalyst is thus regenerated. The chemical equation is given below for this step of Fenton's reaction.

Fe3+ + H2O2 → HOO• + Fe2+ + H+

Therefore, when hydrogen peroxide molecules undergo disproportionation in Fenton's reaction, two separate oxygen free radicals are generated. It should be noted that ions and protons of hydroxide are also formed as byproducts that combine to form water. The chemical equation for the entire reaction can be written as follows:

2H2O2 → HOO• + HO• + H2O

The presence of ferric ions in the solution of hydrogen peroxide thus promotes the disproportionation of the H2O2 molecules, leading to the development of highly toxic free radical species such as the free radical hydroxyl. Generally, the free radicals that are produced during the reaction of Fenton participate in secondary reactions (since the hydroxyl free radical is a very powerful, non-selective oxidizing agent). They undergo rapid oxidization in a strongly exothermic reaction when organic compounds are exposed to Fenton's reagent. Water and carbon dioxide are normally oxidized by toxins.


How Does the pH of the Environment Affect Fenton’s Reaction?

Ferric ions at neutral pH ranges are nearly 100 times less soluble than ferrous ions. The concentration of ferric ions in Fenton's reaction is typically the limiting factor in the reaction rate. The pH of the environment therefore has a significant influence on the rate of reaction of Fenton.

Under acidic conditions, because of the increased solubility of ferric ions in acidic media, Fenton's reaction proceeds at a very rapid rate. The reaction rate of Fenton's response, however, slows down under alkaline conditions. The formation of ferric hydroxide may explain this (which precipitates out of the solution). As a result of the formation of ferric hydroxide, the decreased ferric ion concentration is the explanation behind the reduced reaction rate of the Fenton alkali reaction.


What is the Electro-Fenton Process? 

The electro-Fenton process requires the in situ production of hydrogen peroxide as a consequence of oxygen electrochemical reduction.


What are the Applications of Fenton’s Reagent?

In converting benzene into phenol, Fenton's reagent can be used. In order to transform barbituric acid into alloxan, this reagent can also be used. In the hydroxylation of arenes, the Fenton reagent is also useful.

  • The Haber-Weiss reaction, which is a called reaction producing hydroxyl radicals from superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, is based on the first stage of Fenton's reaction (which requires the oxidation of ferrous ions with hydrogen peroxide).

  • In organic synthesis reactions, Fenton's reagent may also be used. For instance, with the aid of Fenton's reagent, the hydroxylation of arenes through a free radical substitution mechanism can be achieved.

  • By using Fenton's reagent, benzene can be converted into phenol. 

  • The Fenton reaction can also be used to oxidize alloxan into barbituric acid. 

  • The coupling reactions of alkanes are another major application of Fenton's reaction.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Fenton’s reagent? What are the free radical species formed during Fenton’s reaction? How does pH affect the rate of Fenton’s reaction?

The Fenton reagent is a hydrogen peroxide solution and a ferrous ion solution. Generally, Fenton's reagent is a hydrogen peroxide solution of ferrous sulfate. The ferrous ion in this reagent serves as a catalyst and facilitates the formation of free radicals.

Hydroxyl free radicals and hydroperoxyl free radicals are generated from the reactions between ferrous ions and ferric ions with hydrogen peroxide in Fenton's reaction. The pH influences Fe3+ ions' solubility, which is the limiting factor for the reaction of Fenton. The reaction rate of Fenton's reaction increases in acidic media because ferric ions are more soluble in acidic media. The reaction rate slows down under simple or alkaline media, leading to the formation of ferric hydroxide.

2. What are the applications of Fenton’s reagent?

In converting benzene into phenol, Fenton's reagent can be used. In order to transform barbituric acid into alloxan, this reagent can also be used. The Fenton reagent is also useful in the hydroxylation of arenes. 

  • The Haber-Weiss reaction, which is a called reaction producing hydroxyl radicals from superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, is based on the first stage of Fenton's reaction (which requires the oxidation of ferrous ions with hydrogen peroxide).

  • In organic synthesis reactions, Fenton's reagent may also be used. For instance, with the aid of Fenton's reagent, the hydroxylation of arenes through a free radical substitution mechanism can be achieved. 

  • By using Fenton's reagent, benzene can be converted into phenol. 

  • The Fenton reaction can also be used to oxidize alloxan into barbituric acid. 

  • The coupling reactions of alkanes are another major application of Fenton's reaction.