Various forms of cobalt catalysts have been studied extensively for selective aerobic oxidation of hydrocarbons. However, it remains unclear whether cobalt can directly activate molecular oxygen under mild reaction conditions. Here we investigated the catalytic roles of cobalt in ethylbenzene oxidation with and without a hydroperoxide initiator. The contribution of different cobalt species was studied by varying the metal loading on Co-impregnated ZSM-5 samples. Quantitative EPR was used to determine the impact of cobalt catalysts on the free radical concentrations. This work provided strong evidence that cobalt, in several different forms, catalyzes hydrocarbon oxidation by facilitating peroxy bond cleavage, instead of direct oxygen activation.
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