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14.3.6: Olefin Metathesis

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    Olefin Metathesis

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Olefin metathesis

    Olefin metathesis is a reaction which allows to cut and rearrange C=C double bonds in olefins to make new olefins (Fig. \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Formally, the carbon-carbon bond of the reactant is cleaved homoleptically and the two carbene fragments are combined in a different way. This reaction is typically an equilibrium reaction, and neither the reactants nor the products are clearly favored. This reaction is catalyzed by molybdenum arylamido carbene complexes or ruthenium carbene complexes.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Shrock catalyst (Attribution: R._Schrock_-_IChO_2012_Opening_Ceremony.JPG: A.mela93derivative work: Materialscientist / CC BY-SA ( and (Attribution: The Royal Society / CC BY-SA (

    The former are called Shrock catalysts, and the latter Grubbs catalysts named after their discoverers Richard Shrock and Robert Grubbs who received the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 2005 (Fig. \(\PageIndex{2}\)). The Schrock catalysts are more active, but also very sensitive to air and water. The Grubbs catalysts, while less active, are less sensitive to air and water.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Regular metathesis

    Olefin metathesis often allows for simpler preparation of olefins compared to other methods. Olefin metathesis is particularly powerful when one olefin product is gaseous because then it can be quite easily removed from the chemical equilibrium by purging. This drives the chemical equilibrium to the right side. An example is the preparation of 5-decene from 1-hexene. Cleavage of the C=C double bond in the hexene leads to C5 and C1 carbene fragments (Fig. \(\PageIndex{3}\)). The two C1 fragments can combine to form ethylene and the two C5 fragments combine to 5-decene. The ethylene is volatile and can be purged from the reaction system thereby driving the chemical reaction to the right side.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Acylic diene metathesis (ADMET)

    The same principles can also be applied to produce polymers from dienes with two terminal C=C double bonds at the chain ends. This is called acylic diene metathesis (ADMET), Fig. \(\PageIndex{4}\). For instance the cleavage of the two terminal double bonds in a diene with seven C atoms leads to C1 and C5 fragments. The C1 fragments can combine to form ethylene, and the C5 fragments can combine to make an unsaturated polymer of the type [CH(CH2)3CH]n. Again, the reaction can be driven to the right side by removing the gaseous ethylene from the reaction mixture through purging.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP)

    Another variation of olefin metathesis is ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP). It allows to make polymers from strained cycloolefins, for example norbornene. The reaction driving force is the relief of the strain. Because the strain is removed in the polymer, the chemical equilibrium lies far on the right side. The reaction product in norbornene is a polymer with 5-membered rings that are interconnected by ethylene -CH=CH- units (Fig. \(\PageIndex{5}\)).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Ring-closing metathesis (RCM)

    The opposite of ROMP is ring-closure metathesis (RCM). RCM allows for the preparation of unstrained rings with C=C double bonds from dienes with C=C double bonds that are five or six carbon atoms apart. This distance is suitable to produce unstrained rings. In the shown example a five-membered ring with a C=C double bond is formed from a diene with terminal C=C double bonds that are five atoms apart.

    The Mechanism of Olefin Metathesis

    What is the mechanism of olefin metathesis?

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): The mechanism of olefin metathesis

    In the first step, the alkene adds to the the carbene fragment of the catalyst in a 2+2 cycloaddition reaction to produce an unstable intermediate with a highly strained four-membered ring (Fig. \(\PageIndex{7}\)). This four membered ring can open to produce the first new alkene product R-CH=CH-R and a metal carbene species. This metal carbene can react with another reactant olefin to form another highly stained 4-ring intermediate via a 2+2 cycloaddition reaction. This ring can then reopen again to produce the second alkene metathesis product, in this case ethylene, and the original catalyst. The regenerated catalyst can then start a new catalytic cycle.

    Dr. Kai Landskron (Lehigh University). If you like this textbook, please consider to make a donation to support the author's research at Lehigh University: Click Here to Donate.

    This page titled 14.3.6: Olefin Metathesis is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Haas.

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