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23.3: Dehydration of Aldol Products - Synthesis of Enones

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    After completing this section, you should be able to

    1. write an equation to illustrate the formation of a conjugated enone from a β‑hydroxy aldehyde or ketone.
    2. write a detailed mechanism for the basic or acidic elimination of water from a β‑hydroxy aldehyde or ketone.
    3. explain why β‑hydroxy aldehydes and ketones undergo elimination reactions much more readily than most other alcohols.
    4. identify the enone products from the aldol condensation of a given aldehyde or ketone.
    Study Notes

    Conjugated enones, like conjugated dienes, have more inherent stability compared with their non‑conjugated counterparts. You may wish to review Section 14.1 on dienes, which gives a molecular orbital description showing π electron distribution over four atomic centres.

    conjugated diene and enone structures

    Note that both of the elimination mechanisms described here (acidic and basic) involve either the enol form or the enolate anion of the β‑hydroxy carbonyl compound.

    Aldol Condensation:

    Reactions in which a larger molecule is formed from smaller components, with the elimination of a very small by-product such as water are termed Condensations. Hence the following examples are properly referred to as aldol condensations.

    General Aldol Reaction

    Generic Enone Formation.png

    Dehydration of Aldol Products to Synthesize α, β Unsaturated carbonyl (enones)

    The products of aldol reactions, with heating, often undergo a subsequent elimination of water, made up from an alpha-hydrogen and the beta-hydroxyl group. The product of this acid or base-catalyzed E1cB elimination reaction (Section 11-10) reaction is an α,β-unsaturated aldehyde or ketone (Enones). Although there may be multiple position where the alkene may form, it will always prefer to be in conjugation with the carbonyl.

    Conjugated enone products are more stable than non-conjugated due to extended P orbital overlap. Conjugation of the p electrons of the alkene and carbonyl bonds provide a molecular-orbital description showing the interaction of p electrons of all four atoms. The additional stability provided by the conjugated carbonyl system of the product makes many aldol reactions thermodynamically factorable.

    Molecular Orbital.png

    Structure Propenal.png

    A representation of pi bonding molecular orbitals of the conjugated enone, propenal, are delocalized through p-orbital overlap

    The elimination of water from the reaction mixture can be used to drive the equilibrium towards the products by Le Chatelier’s principal. This coupled with the thermodynamic stability of the conjugated product allow for good reaction yields when the formation of the initial aldol intermediate is unfavorable (ketones & sterically hindered aldehydes).

    Predicting the Product of an Enone Formation

    Reactants to Products.svg

    Stereochemical Considerations

    When aldehyde starting materials are used for an aldol condensation, there is the possibility of forming both E and Z alkene isomers. When symmetrical ketones are used, the alkene formed lacks the ability to form isomers so a single product is made.

    Steresochemical A.png

    Stereochemical B.png


    Example pentanone.png

    Example cyclohexanone.png


    Base Catalyzed Mechanism

    1) Form an enolate

    The mechanism starts with the base removing an alpha-hydrogen to form an enolate ion.

    Mechanism step 1.svg

    2) Form the enone

    The alkoxide reforming the carbonyl C=O bond promotes the elimination of alcohol OH as a leaving group which reforms the base catalyst. Although the base catalyzed elimination of alcohols is rare, it happens in this case in part due to the stability of the conjugated enone product.

    Mechanism step 2.svg

    Acidic Conditions Mechanism

    1) Protonation

    The mechanism starts with the two step tautomerization process to form an enol.

    Mechanism acidic step 1.svg

    2) Form an enol

    Mechanism acidic step 2.svg

    3) Protonation

    Protonation of the alcohol OH increases its ability to act as a leaving group.

    Mechanism acidic step 3.svg

    4) Elimination

    Lone pair electrons from the enol reform the carbonyl C=O bond and promoted the elimination of water as a leaving group.

    Mechanism acidic step 4.svgMechanism acidic step 4.svgMechanism acidic step 4.svg

    5) Deprotonation

    Deprotonation by water in the final step create the neutral enone product and regenerates the acid catalyst.

    mechanisim acidic step 5.svg

    Aldol Condensation

    Whether an aldol reaction or an aldol condensation product is formed during a reaction largely depends on the reaction conditions. Typically, a reaction with a base at room temperature provides the aldol reaction product. However, if the reaction mixture is heated the aldol product is quickly converted into the aldol condensation product. If the condensation product is desired the aldol intermediate is usually not isolated.


    Aldol Reaction

    Example aldol reaction.svg

    Aldol Condensation

    example aldol condensation.png

    Worked Example

    Draw the product of an aldol condensation with the following molecule:

    Worked example A.png


    The overall reaction is a combination of two major steps, an aldol reaction followed by a dehydration to form the enone. In this situation it is best to consider the aldol product first (as discussed in Section 23.3, then convert it to the enone. Note! The double bond always forms in conjugation with the carbonyl.

    Worked example B.svg

    Contributors and Attributions

    23.3: Dehydration of Aldol Products - Synthesis of Enones is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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