Journal of the American Chemical Society

Selective homogeneous hydrogenation of biogenic carboxylic acids with [Ru(TriPhos)H]+: a mechanistic study.

PMID 21786816


Selective hydrogenation of biogenic carboxylic acids is an important transformation for biorefinery concepts based on platform chemicals. We herein report a mechanistic study on the homogeneously ruthenium/phosphine catalyzed transformations of levulinic acid (LA) and itaconic acid (IA) to the corresponding lactones, diols, and cyclic ethers. A density functional theory (DFT) study was performed and corroborated with experimental data from catalytic processes and NMR investigations. For [Ru(TriPhos)H](+) as the catalytically active unit, a common mechanistic pathway for the reduction of the C═O functionality in aldehydes, ketones, lactones, and even free carboxylic acids could be identified. Hydride transfer from the Ru-H group to the carbonyl or carboxyl carbon is followed by protonation of the resulting Ru-O unit via σ-bond metathesis from a coordinated dihydrogen molecule. The energetic spans for the reduction of the different functional groups increase in the order aldehyde < ketone < lactone ≈ carboxylic acid. This reactivity pattern as well as the absolute values are in full agreement with experimentally observed activities and selectivities, forming a rational basis for further catalyst development.