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Addition Reactions Initiated by Electrophilic Halogen

The halogens chlorine and bromine add rapidly to a wide variety of alkenes without inducing the kinds of structural rearrangements noted for strong acids (first example below). The stereoselectivity of these additions is strongly anti, as shown in many of the following examples.

An important principle should be restated at this time. The alkenes shown here are all achiral, but the addition products have chiral centers, and in many cases may exist as enantiomeric stereoisomers. In the absence of chiral catalysts or reagents, reactions of this kind will always give racemic mixtures if the products are enantiomeric. On the other hand, if two chiral centers are formed in the addition the reaction will be diastereomer selective. This is clearly shown by the addition of bromine to the isomeric 2-butenes. Anti-addition to cis-2-butene gives the racemic product, whereas anti-addition to the trans-isomer gives the meso-diastereomer.

We can account both for the high stereoselectivity and the lack of rearrangement in these reactions by proposing a stabilizing interaction between the developing carbocation center and the electron rich halogen atom on the adjacent carbon. This interaction, which is depicted for bromine in the following equation, delocalizes the positive charge on the intermediate and blocks halide ion attack from the syn-location.

The stabilization provided by this halogen-carbocation bonding makes rearrangement unlikely, and in a few cases three-membered cyclic halonium cations have been isolated and identified as true intermediates. A resonance description of such a bromonium ion intermediate is shown below. The positive charge is delocalized over all the atoms of the ring, but should be concentrated at the more substituted carbon (carbocation stability), and this is the site to which the nucleophile will bond.

Stereoelectronic Effect

The stereoselectivity described here is in large part due to a stereoelectronic effect.

Because they proceed by way of polar ion-pair intermediates, chlorine and bromine addition reactions are faster in polar solvents than in non-polar solvents, such as hexane or carbon tetrachloride. However, in order to prevent solvent nucleophiles from competing with the halide anion, these non-polar solvents are often selected for these reactions. In water or alcohol solution the nucleophilic solvent may open the bromonium ion intermediate to give an α-halo-alcohol or ether, together with the expected vic-dihalide. Such reactions are sensitive to pH and other factors, so when these products are desired it is necessary to modify the addition reagent. Aqueous chlorine exists as the following equilibrium, Keq ≈ 10-4. By adding AgOH, the concentration of HOCl can be greatly increased, and the chlorohydrin addition product obtained from alkenes.

\[\ce{Cl_2  +  H_2O <<=>  HOCl  +  HCl} \]

The more widely used HOBr reagent, hypobromous acid, is commonly made by hydrolysis of N-bromoacetamide, as shown below. Both HOCl and HOBr additions occur in an anti fashion, and with the regioselectivity predicted by this mechanism (OH bonds to the more substituted carbon of the alkene).

\[ CH_3CONHBr   +   H_2O \rightarrow HOBr   +   CH_3CONH_2\]

Vicinal halohydrins provide an alternative route for the epoxidation of alkenes over that of reaction with peracids. As illustrated in the following diagram, a base induced intramolecular substitution reaction forms a three-membered cyclic ether called an epoxide. Both the halohydrin formation and halide displacement reactions are stereospecific, so stereoisomerism in the alkene will be reflected in the epoxide product (i.e. trans-2-butene forms a trans-disubstituted epoxide). A general procedure for forming these useful compounds will be discussed in the next section.

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