Ruthenium-Based Metathesis Catalysts


Olefin metathesis is now a well-entrenched synthetic technique, and is a powerful method for the clean construction of innumerable classes of chemical architectures. The broadly accepted belief that this key method transformed the landscape of synthetic chemistry ultimately led to the awarding of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to the pioneers in olefin metathesis: Yves Chauvin, Robert H. Grubbs, and Richard R. Schrock. Late-transition metal alkylidene complexes, specifically ruthenium alkylidenes, have propelled this synthetic methodology in to the forefront of carbon–carbon bond forming techniques in large part because of the functional group tolerance of these catalysts, and their ability to be handled without the use of glove box or Schlenk techniques. As shown below, ruthenium alkylidenes participate in a host of reaction paradigms, all under the umbrella of olefin metathesis.1

Ruthenium alkylidenes participate in a host of reaction paradigms, all under the umbrella of olefin metathesis

Figure 1.

A majority of the successful examples in the above reaction classes were achieved using the stalwarts of Ru-based olefin metathesis: the Grubbs Catayst® 1st and 2nd generations, or the Hoveyda–Grubbs analogs thereof.

Grubbs Catayst® 1st and 2nd generations and the Hoveyda–Grubbs

Figure 2.

The original metathesis catalysts were of the “first-generation” type, bearing two phosphine ligands (e.g. the Grubbs 1st generation catalyst, above). Development of the second-generation catalysts and the Hoveyda–Grubbs modified catalysts were largely spurred by the need for more active catalysts that could effect transformations that the first-generation systems could not, such as the metathesis of sterically demanding and electron-poor olefins. While these improved catalysts broadened the realm of olefin metathesis reaction, there are instances where the first-generation catalysts continue to provide excellent or superior results in a given metathesis reaction. Thus, it is clear that in many cases, there is not a universal metathesis catalyst.2

We are proud to be the exclusive research scale supplier of Umicore's ruthenium metathesis catalysts, including first- and second-generation Grubbs and Hoveyda–Grubbs catalysts. We have recently expanded our portfolio to include five state-of-the-art catalysts, with unique reactivities and tailored initiation rates. These “next-generation” catalysts expand the scope of this powerful reaction class, allowing for example, metathesis reactions to be performed at low temperatures, and for the formation of tetrasubstituted olefins via cross metathesis.


  • One of the fastest and most general methods for olefin formation
  • Exceptional functional group tolerance
  • Excellent catalyst stability and handling characteristics
  • Large catalyst family allows for rapid reaction optimization
  • Clean reactions with minimal waste and by-products

Our Metathesis Portfolio

Representative Applications

Ring-Closing Metathesis (RCM)

Innumerable instances of RCM employing Grubbs and Hoveyda–Grubbs first- and second-generation catalysts in small molecule and natural product syntheses have been reported. For example, the Danishefsky group employed Grubbs second-generation catalyst in the total synthesis of migrastin, a macrolide isolate from Streptomyces found to inhibit human tumor cell migration.1

Ring-Closing Metathesis (RCM)

Figure 3.

More recently, modified versions of the Grubbs and Hoveyda–Grubbs second-generation catalysts were reported to be highly active in the preparation of tetrasubstituted olefins via RCM. It is believed that the replacement of the mesityl substituents on the NHC ligand with o-tolyl groups creates a less sterically encumbered complex, allowing for coordination of bulkier olefins.

Ring-Closing Metathesis (RCM)

Figure 4.

Cross-Metathesis (CM)

Cross-metathesis is a powerful method for the rapid synthesis of simple and complex olefinic building blocks, and an excellent model has been developed by Grubbs to predict the outcome of cross-metathesis reactions, based upon reactant olefin type (i.e., propensity of the olefin towards homodimerization, and reactivity of those homodimers towards further metathesis) and catalyst used.1 Both first- and second-generation catalysts can be used in CM, with the latter exhibiting excellent reactivity in effecting the metathesis of sterically demanding or highly deactivated olefin substrates.2 Some examples of these more difficult metatheses employing second-generation catalysts are illustrated below.3

Cross-Metathesis (CM)

Figure 5.

Enyne Metathesis Although not as thoroughly explored as olefin metathesis, enyne metathesis is a powerful method for the construction of 1,3-dienes, either in an intra- or intermolecular fashion.1 The intramolecular variant has been applied to the synthesis of heterocycles, and in the case of intermolecular reaction, stereoselective enyne cross-metatheses have been reported.2

Enyne Metathesis

Figure 6.

Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization (ROMP) Some of the earliest commercial applications of Ru-based olefin metathesis catalysts were in the field of ring-opening metathesis polymerization of strained cycloolefins. The living polymerization of dicyclopentadiene has been extensively studied.

Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization (ROMP)

Figure 7.

As shown below, the 3-bromopyridine-ligated ruthenium complex was found to be extremely active in the controlled living polymerization of norbornene and oxo-norbornene derivatives. Polymers generally exhibited narrow polydispersities, in contrast to polymers obtained using Grubbs second-generation catalyst.

Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization (ROMP)

Figure 8.

Control of Olefin Isomerization During Metathesis ReactionsSeveral reports have been published on methods to suppress the olefin migration in the course of metathesis reactions, including using additives such as quinones as illustrated below.1 Alternatively, allyl to trans-propenyl isomerization can be purposely effected using Grubbs second-generation catalyst in MeOH at elevated temperatures (~60 °C).2

Control of Olefin Isomerization During Metathesis Reactions

Figure 9.

Removal of Ru Metal from Metathesis Reaction MixturesA problem inherent to most metathesis reactions employing ruthenium carbenes is the effective removal of ruthenium impurities upon completion of the reaction. In addition to catalyst re-design,1 a variety of methods2 have been used to scavenge ruthenium species, including the use of: water-soluble phosphines,3 oxidizing agents (such as triphenylphosphine oxide,4 DMSO,4 or lead tetraacetate5), mesoporous silicates,6 polar isocyanides,7 and activated carbon.8

Product Information


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Murelli RP, Snapper ML. 2007. Ruthenium-Catalyzed Tandem Cross-Metathesis/Wittig Olefination:  Generation of Conjugated Dienoic Esters from Terminal Olefins. Org. Lett.. 9(9):1749-1752.
Stewart IC, Ung T, Pletnev AA, Berlin JM, Grubbs RH, Schrodi Y. 2007. Highly Efficient Ruthenium Catalysts for the Formation of Tetrasubstituted Olefins via Ring-Closing Metathesis. Org. Lett.. 9(8):1589-1592.
Ung T, Hejl A, Grubbs RH, Schrodi Y. 2004. Latent Ruthenium Olefin Metathesis Catalysts That Contain an N-Heterocyclic Carbene Ligand. Organometallics. 23(23):5399-5401.
Benitez D, Goddard WA. 2005. The Isomerization Equilibrium between Cis and Trans Chloride Ruthenium Olefin Metathesis Catalysts from Quantum Mechanics Calculations. J. Am. Chem. Soc.. 127(35):12218-12219.
Love J, Morgan J, Trnka T, Grubbs R. 2002. A practical and highly active ruthenium‐based catalyst that effects the cross metathesis of acrylonitrile.. Angewandte Chemie.. 114(21):4207-9.
Sanford MS, Love JA, Grubbs RH. 2001. A Versatile Precursor for the Synthesis of New Ruthenium Olefin Metathesis Catalysts. Organometallics. 20(25):5314-5318.
Choi T, Grubbs RH. 2003. Angew. Chem.. 115(15):1785-1788.
Ritter T, Hejl A, Wenzel AG, Funk TW, Grubbs RH. 2006. A Standard System of Characterization for Olefin Metathesis Catalysts. Organometallics. 25(24):5740-5745.