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Dehydrogenation is a chemical reaction that involves the removal of hydrogen from an organic molecule.It is the reverse of hydrogenation. Dehydrogenation is an important reaction because it converts alkanes, which are relatively inert and thus low-valued, to olefins (including alkenes), which are reactive and thus more valuable. Alkenes are precursors to aldehydes, alcohols, polymers, and aromatics.[1] Dehydrogenation processes are used extensively to produce aromatics and styrene in the petrochemical industry. Such processes are highly endothermic and require temperatures of 500 °C and above.[1][2] Dehydrogenation also converts saturated fats to unsaturated fats. Enzymes that catalyze dehydrogenation are called dehydrogenases.

Classes of the reactionEdit

A variety of dehydrogenation processes have been described, especially for organic compounds:


One of the largest scale dehydrogenation reactions is the production of styrene by dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene. Typical dehydrogenation catalysts are based on iron(III) oxide, promoted by several percent potassium oxide or potassium carbonate.[3]

C6H5CH2CH3 → C6H5CH=CH2 + H2

Formaldehyde is produced industrially by the catalytic oxidation of methanol, which can also be viewed as a dehydrogenation using O2 as the acceptor. The most common catalysts are silver metal or a mixture of an iron and molybdenum or vanadium oxides. In the commonly used formox process, methanol and oxygen react at ca. 250–400 °C in presence of iron oxide in combination with molybdenum and/or vanadium to produce formaldehyde according to the chemical equation:[4]

2 CH3OH + O2 → 2 CH2O + 2 H2O

The importance of catalytic dehydrogenation of paraffin hydrocarbons to olefins has been growing steadily in recent years. Light olefins, such as butenes, are important raw materials for the synthesis of polymers, gasoline additives and various other petrochemical products. The cracking processes especially fluid catalytic cracking and steam cracker produce high-purity mono-olefins, such as 1-butene or butadiene. Despite such processes, currently more research is focused on developing alternatives such as oxidative dehydrogenation (ODH) for two reasons: (1) undesired reactions take place at high temperature leading to coking and catalyst deactivation, making frequent regeneration of the catalyst unavoidable, (2) it consumes a large amount of heat and requires high reaction temperatures. Oxidative dehydrogenation (ODH) of n-butane is an alternative to classical dehydrogenation, steam cracking and fluid catalytic cracking processes.[5]

Homogeneous catalysisEdit

Although not of commercial value, dehydrogenation of alkanes can be effected by homogeneous catalysis. Especially active for this reaction are pincer complexes.[7][8]

The dehydrogenative coupling of silanes has also been developed.[9]

n PhSiH3 → [PhSiH]n + n H2

The dehydrogenation of amine-boranes is another related reaction. This process once gained interests for its potential for hydrogen storage.[10] 


  1. ^ a b Wittcoff, Harold A.; Reuben, Bryan G.; Plotkin, Jeffrey S. (2004). Industrial Organic Chemicals, Second Edition - Wittcoff - Wiley Online Library. doi:10.1002/0471651540. ISBN 9780471651543.
  2. ^ Survey of Industrial Chemistry | Philip J. Chenier | Springer. ISBN 9780471651543.
  3. ^ Denis H. James William M. Castor, “Styrene” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2005.
  4. ^ Günther Reuss, Walter Disteldorf, Armin Otto Gamer, Albrecht Hilt “Formaldehyde” in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 2002, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a11_619
  5. ^ Ajayi, B. P.; Jermy, B. Rabindran; Ogunronbi, K. E.; Abussaud, B. A.; Al-Khattaf, S. (2013-04-15). "n-Butane dehydrogenation over mono and bimetallic MCM-41 catalysts under oxygen free atmosphere". Catalysis Today. Challenges in Nanoporous and Layered Materials for Catalysis. 204: 189–196. doi:10.1016/j.cattod.2012.07.013.
  6. ^ Polypropylene Production via Propane Dehydrogenation part 2, Technology Economics Program. by Intratec. 2012. ISBN 978-0615702162.
  7. ^ "1". Alkane C-H Activation by Single-Site Metal Catalysis | Pedro J. Pérez | Springer. pp. 1–15.
  8. ^ Findlater, Michael; Choi, Jongwook; Goldman, Alan S.; Brookhart, Maurice (2012-01-01). Pérez, Pedro J. (ed.). Alkane C-H Activation by Single-Site Metal Catalysis. Catalysis by Metal Complexes. Springer Netherlands. pp. 113–141. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-3698-8_4. ISBN 9789048136971.
  9. ^ Aitken, C.; Harrod, J. F.; Gill, U. S. (1987). "Structural studies of oligosilanes produced by catalytic dehydrogenative coupling of primary organosilanes". Can. J. Chem. 65 (8): 1804–1809. doi:10.1139/v87-303.
  10. ^ Staubitz, A.; Robertson, A. P. M.; Manners, I., "Ammonia-Borane and Related Compounds as Dihydrogen Sources", Chemical Reviews 2010, volume 110, pp. 4079-4124.. doi:10.1021/cr100088b