Energy and Fuels

The Role of Methyl Groups in the Early Stage of Thermal Polymerization of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Revealed by Molecular Imaging

Download paper


The initial thermal reactions of aromatic hydrocarbons are relevant to many industrial applications. However, tracking the growing number of heavy polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) products is extremely challenging because many reactions are unfolding in parallel from a mixture of molecules. Herein, we studied the reactions of 2,7-dimethylpyrene (DMPY) to decipher the roles of methyl substituents during mild thermal treatment. We found that the presence of methyl substituents is key for reducing the thermal severity required to initiate chemical reactions in natural molecular mixtures. A complex mixture of thermal products including monomers, dimers, and trimers was characterized by NMR, mass spectrometry, and noncontact atomic force microscopy (nc-AFM). A wide range of structural transformations including methyl transfer and polymerization reactions were identified. A detailed mechanistic understanding on the roles of H radicals during the polymerization of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was obtained.