Hydrogenation – to treat with hydrogen – is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen (H2) and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically constitutes the addition of pairs of hydrogen atoms to a molecule, often an alkene. Catalysts are required for the reaction to be usable; non-catalytic hydrogenation takes place only at very high temperatures. Hydrogenation reduces double and triple bonds in hydrocarbons.
Hydrogenated fats and oils are common terms you may have encountered at your local grocery store. On food labels, you can likely find at least one container that reads ‘does not contain hydrogenated fats.’ Although there are several nutritional warnings against these types of fats, have you ever wondered how these are generated in the first place? Well, the answer lies in a chemical reaction called hydrogenation.
The process of hydrogenation involves the use of hydrogen molecules to saturate organic compounds, in the presence of a catalyst. Catalysts are species that are used to speed up the rate of a reaction without being consumed during the process. Keep in mind that catalysts are essential to running this reaction. Common catalysts used during hydrogenation are metals such as nickel and platinum.
An important requirement in the hydrogenation process, besides a catalyst, is the presence of a hydrogen atom. As we will see shortly, the purpose of the hydrogen atom is to come in and remove the double or triple bond between atoms. In other words, hydrogen atoms turn an unsaturated hydrocarbon into a saturated one.