Towards new catalytic systems for the formation of methyl methacrylate from methyl propanoate
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The two stage Lucite Alpha Process for the industrial manufacturing of methyl methacrylate (MMA) represents one of the most efficient technologies currently available for the large scale production of this important chemical commodity. The second stage of this process, which involves the condensation of methyl propanoate (MeP) with formaldehyde over a heterogeneous fixed bed catalyst, however, still shows great scope for improvement. Herein the development of a novel homogeneous catalytic system that would promote the condensation of either propanoic acid or MeP with formaldehyde is explored. Since C–C bond forming reactions which proceed via C–H activation pathways typically display high atom efficiency, our efforts were particularly focussed on employing a functionalisation strategy that is mediated by C–H activation. In the case of propanoic acid, the possibility of achieving regioselective α-methylenation by linking the substrate to phosphorus was evaluated. Thus, a series of acyloxyphosphines and acylphosphites derived from either propionic acid or phenylacetic acid was prepared and, where stability allowed, fully characterised. Some of the resultant simple mixed anhydrides posed problems relating to their stability, and the stabilisation of such ligand systems by using electronic and / or steric effects was therefore explored. In addition, the coordination chemistry and in solution behaviour of Rh(I) and Ru(II) complexes containing these ligands was examined. Similar to the free ligands, complexes derived from these mixed anhydrides rearranged in solution via a number of decomposition pathways, with the specific pathway dependent on the nature of the auxiliary ligands. For most of these complexes, however, ligand decarbonylation was the route of preference for decomposition. Despite the instability of these complexes, a selection of Rh(I) mixed anhydride complexes were assessed for their potential as C-H activation catalysts in reactions aimed at the α-methylenation of saturated carboxylic acids. Furthermore, the stabilisation of Rh(I) mixed anhydride complexes with chelating auxilary ligands, such as bisphosphines or N-substituted diphosphinoamines, was explored. In particular, a series of new Rh(I) mixed anhydride complexes containing dppe, dppb and dppbz as secondary ligands were prepared and the effects of these secondary ligands on the in solution stability of these complexes assessed. As MeP represents the final product in the first stage of the Alpha process and not propanoic acid, the utilisation of PNP iridium pincer complexes in the regioselective sp³ C–H activation of MeP and related esters was also examined. The factors that govern the regioselectivity of such reactions were of great interest to us and, in particular, the effects of water on the reactivity and regioselectivity of these reactions were explored. For MeP, preferential C–H activation of the methoxy group was found to proceed under anhydrous conditions and the catalytic functionalisation of this site with ethene using this activation approach was considered. Formaldehyde, employed in the second stage of the Alpha process, is a difficult substance to manufacture and handle, especially on a large scale. A preliminary study on the in situ production of anhydrous formaldehyde via the catalytic dehydrogenation of methanol was therefore performed. During this study, catalytic systems based on carbonate salts and / or transition metal complexes were considered. In the hope of reducing the number of steps required in the production of MMA, a new one-pot cascade reaction for the indirect α-methylenation of MeP with methanol was developed. Although the production of MMA using this system only proceeded with low efficiency, the obtained results serve as an important proof of concept for future developments in this area. Finally, the capacity of a series of simple bases to catalyse the condensation of MeP with formaldehyde was assessed as part of a fundamental study directed towards determining the factors that govern the efficiency of this reaction. In addition, the extent to which each base effects the deprotonation in the α-position of MeP was determined with the aid of deuterium labelling experiments. Similarly, using sodium propanoate as model base a rough estimate of the kinetics of deprotonation could be made based on the degree of deuterium incorporation over time. These studies suggested that the low efficiency of this condensation reaction is not caused by ineffective deprotonation but rather by the weak nucleophilicity of the generated carbanion. For this reason, attempts to increase the electrophilicity of formaldehyde through Mannich-type condensations reactions involving secondary amine and carboxylic acid additives were made.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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