Computational Predictions of the Hydrolysis of 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT) and 2,4-Dinitroanisole (DNAN)

Eric J. Bylaska, Paul G. Tratnyek, Tifany L. Torralba-Sanchez, Kyle C. Edwards, David A. Dixon, Joseph J. Pignatello, Wenqing Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hydrolysis is a common transformation reaction that can affect the environmental fate of many organic compounds. In this study, three proposed mechanisms of alkaline hydrolysis of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) and 2,4-dinitroaniline (DNAN) were investigated with plane-wave density functional theory (DFT) combined with ab initio and classical molecular dynamics (AIMD/MM) free energy simulations, Gaussian basis set DFT calculations, and correlated molecular orbital theory calculations. Most of the computations in this study were carried out using the Arrows web-based tools. For each mechanism, Meisenheimer complex formation, nucleophilic aromatic substitution, and proton abstraction reaction energies and activation barriers were calculated for the reaction at each relevant site. For TNT, it was found that the most kinetically favorable first hydrolysis steps involve Meisenheimer complex formation by attachment of OH- at the C1 and C3 arene carbons and proton abstraction from the methyl group. The nucleophilic aromatic substitution reactions at the C2 and C4 arene carbons were found to be thermodynamically favorable. However, the calculated activation barriers were slightly lower than in previous studies, but still found to be ΔG‡ ≈ 18 kcal/mol using PBE0 AIMD/MM free energy simulations, suggesting that the reactions are not kinetically significant. For DNAN, the barriers of nucleophilic aromatic substitution were even greater (ΔG‡ > 29 kcal/mol PBE0 AIMD/MM). The most favorable hydrolysis reaction for DNAN was found to be a two-step process in which the hydroxyl first attacks the C1 carbon to form a Meisenheimer complex at the C1 arene carbon C1-(OCH3)OH-, and subsequently, the methoxy anion (-OCH3) at the C1 arene carbon dissociates and the proton shuttles from the C1-OH to the dissociated methoxy group, resulting in methanol and an aryloxy anion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9059-9075
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number48
StatePublished - Dec 8 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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