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Catalytic Hydrogenation

The catalytic addition of hydrogen to 2-butyne not only serves as an example of such an addition reaction, but also provides heat of reaction data that reflect the relative thermodynamic stabilities of these hydrocarbons, as shown in the diagram below. 

From the heats of hydrogenation, shown in blue in units of kcal/mole, it would appear that alkynes are thermodynamically less stable than alkenes to a greater degree than alkenes are less stable than alkanes. The standard bond energies for carbon-carbon bonds confirm this conclusion. Thus, a double bond is stronger than a single bond, but not twice as strong. The difference ( 63 kcal/mole ) may be regarded as the strength of the π-bond component. Similarly, a triple bond is stronger than a double bond, but not 50% stronger. Here the difference ( 54 kcal/mole ) may be taken as the strength of the second π-bond. The 9 kcal/mole weakening of this second π-bond is reflected in the heat of hydrogenation numbers ( 36.7 - 28.3 = 8.4 ).

Since alkynes are thermodynamically less stable than alkenes, we might expect addition reactions of the former to be more exothermic and relatively faster than equivalent reactions of the latter. In the case of catalytic hydrogenation, the usual Pt and Pd hydrogenation catalysts are so effective in promoting addition of hydrogen to both double and triple carbon-carbon bonds that the alkene intermediate formed by hydrogen addition to an alkyne cannot be isolated. A less efficient catalyst, Lindlar's catalyst, prepared by deactivating (or poisoning) a conventional palladium catalyst by treating it with lead acetate and quinoline, permits alkynes to be converted to alkenes without further reduction to an alkane. The addition of hydrogen is stereoselectively syn (e.g. 2-butyne gives cis-2-butene). A complementary stereoselective reduction in the anti mode may be accomplished by a solution of sodium in liquid ammonia. This reaction will be discussed later in this section.


R-C≡C-R   +   H2   &   Lindlar catalyst   →  cis R-CH=CH-R
R-C≡C-R   +   2 Na   in   NH3 (liq)   →  trans R-CH=CH-R   +   2 NaNH2

Alkenes and alkynes show a curious difference in behavior toward catalytic hydrogenation. Independent studies of hydrogenation rates for each class indicate that alkenes react more rapidly than alkynes. However, careful hydrogenation of an alkyne proceeds exclusively to the alkene until the former is consumed, at which point the product alkene is very rapidly hydrogenated to an alkane. This behavior is nicely explained by differences in the stages of the hydrogenation reaction. Before hydrogen can add to a multiple bond the alkene or alkyne must be adsorbed on the catalyst surface. In this respect, the formation of stable platinum (and palladium) complexes with alkenes has been described earlier. Since alkynes adsorb more strongly to such catalytic surfaces than do alkenes, they preferentially occupy reactive sites on the catalyst. Subsequent transfer of hydrogen to the adsorbed alkyne proceeds slowly, relative to the corresponding hydrogen transfer to an adsorbed alkene molecule. Consequently, reduction of triple bonds occurs selectively at a moderate rate, followed by rapid addition of hydrogen to the alkene product. The Lindlar catalyst permits adsorption and reduction of alkynes, but does not adsorb alkenes sufficiently to allow their reduction.