Maleic anhydride, a precursor to polyester resins, is made by oxidation of n-butane over vanadium phosphate catalysts. This system is of general interest because it is the only heterogeneously catalyzed, alkane-selective oxidation reaction in commercial use. Time-resolved in situ x-ray absorption spectroscopy shows that when either α1-VOPO4/SiO2 or (VO)2P2O7/SiO2 catalysts are exposed to n-butane, the rate of maleic anhydride formation is proportional to the rate of decay of V5+ species in the catalyst. Thus V5+ species are kinetically significant for the production of maleic anhydride and not just for the production of by-products. The results also suggest that V5+ species may play a role in the initial hydrogen abstraction from n-butane, the rate-determining step in the reaction sequence. V4+ sites appear to be responsible for by-product formation.
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