Formaldehyde is abundant in the universe and one of the fundamental molecules for life. Hydrothermal vents produce a substantial amount of hydrogen molecules by serpentinization and promote reductive reactions of single carbon compounds. The abundance of formaldehyde is expected to be low due to the high Gibbs free energy in hydrothermal vents. We consider two competing formation pathways of formaldehyde: (1) the reduction of CO by H2 and (2) the reduction of HCOOH by H2 to form a methanediol, followed by the dehydration of the methanediol. We performed a number of quantum chemical simulations to examine the formation of formaldehyde in the gas phase as well as in aqueous solution. The energy barrier is significantly reduced by the catalytic effect of water molecules in aqueous solution and becomes lowest when a water cluster consisted of 5 water molecules catalyzes the reduction. The energy barrier to form a methanediol by the reduction of HCOOH is lower by 17.5 kcal/mol than that to form a formaldehyde by the reduction of CO. Considering the low energy barrier to dehydrate methanediol, the primary pathway to form formaldehyde in hydrothermal vents is concluded to be the reduction of HCOOH by H2, followed by the dehydration of methanediol.
- Hydrothermal vents
- Quantum chemical simulations
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Space and Planetary Science