Photophysical oxidation of HCHO produces HO2 radicals

Publication Name

Nature Chemistry


Formaldehyde, HCHO, is the highest-volume carbonyl in the atmosphere. It absorbs sunlight at wavelengths shorter than 330 nm and photolyses to form H and HCO radicals, which then react with O2 to form HO2. Here we show HCHO has an additional HO2 formation pathway. At photolysis energies below the energetic threshold for radical formation we directly detect HO2 at low pressures by cavity ring-down spectroscopy and indirectly detect HO2 at 1 bar by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy end-product analysis. Supported by electronic structure theory and master equation simulations, we attribute this HO2 to photophysical oxidation (PPO): photoexcited HCHO relaxes non-radiatively to the ground electronic state where the far-from-equilibrium, vibrationally activated HCHO molecules react with thermal O2. PPO is likely to be a general mechanism in tropospheric chemistry and, unlike photolysis, PPO will increase with increasing O2 pressure. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access

Funding Number

ANR-11-Labx-0005-01 CaPPA

Funding Sponsor

National Computational Infrastructure



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