Dienes and MO Theory

By James Ashenhurst

Thermodynamic and Kinetic Products

Last updated: October 24th, 2022 |

Thermodynamic vs Kinetic Products In Purchasing Decisions (And Addition To Dienes)

A post about getting what you pay for, and how that translates to “kinetic control” and “thermodynamic control” in the addition of HCl to butadiene.

Table of Contents

  1. An Analogy: Spending More For Quality Tools, vs. Buying Cheap Crappy Tools That Break And Constantly Need To Be Replaced
  2. Kinetic Versus Thermodynamic Control In Addition Of Acid To Dienes
  3. The Reaction Coordinate Diagram For 1,2- and 1,4- Addition Of HCl To Butadiene
  4. Notes

1. An Analogy: Spending More For Quality Tools, vs. Buying Cheap Crappy Tools That Break And Constantly Need To Be Replaced

First, an explanation. My dad died. So things at MOC have basically  been on hold for a few weeks. Life is now returning to normal.

The following discussion has nothing to do with the above, other than the fact that my dad’s best friend wryly observed of him: “When he opened his wallet, moths flew out”. I suppose I share this trait with regard to a lot of things.  But I do not scrimp on can openers. This is why.

About 10 years ago when I was living in Montreal I was very poor, and outfitted my kitchen with items available from the dollar store. Including a can opener I paid exactly $1.14 for (in Canada, they hit you hard with sales tax).

After taking this small financial hit, life was somewhat better. I could now eat canned Ravioli. However this state of affairs did not last long.

Within the next week my $1.14 can opener had opened (poorly!)  about three or four cans before flying apart while trying to pry open an 800 mL can of Bravo spaghetti sauce. So I was back to where I started: with no working can opener.

This time around I decided I wasn’t going to screw around, so I went to the local Canadian Tire and pulled out $6.99 .  It was more painful to do this, but the can opener I received was of superior quality. And it did not fail me in the subsequent years that passed (although it did get a tad rusty).

So if we compare these two situations we get this:

silly analogy for thermodynamic and kinetic control involves buying crappy versus good can opener and energy barriers


Now what does this have to do with chemistry?

2. Kinetic vs Thermodynamic Products In Addition Of Acid To Dienes

Well, it resembles a situation that occurs in the addition of strong acids (like hydrochloric acid, HCl) to certain dienes such as butadiene. Two products are possible: the 1,2-product and the 1,4-product.

butadiene plus hcl giving resonance stabilized carbocation and two transition states giving 12 addition and 14 addition respectively

Three notes:

  •  With butadiene, the addition of HCl leads to a resonance-stabilized carbocation. Note that the resonance form on the top bears the positive charge on the more substituted carbon, and will therefore have a higher contribution to the hybrid than the resonance form on the bottom, where the positive charge is borne by a primary carbon.
  • In the attack of Cl to the resonance stabilized carbocation, there are two possible sites of attack. In the transition state for attack at the carbon labelled C-2 [top]  note that there is a partial double bond between C-3 and C-4, and that the positive charge is localized on C-2. In the transition state for attack at the carbon labelled C-4 [bottom] note that the partial double bond is between C-2 and C-3 and that positive charge is localized on C-4. The top transition state will be lower in energy because in it, positive charge is localized on the most substituted carbon. 
  • Now look at the final products. The product of the top transition state [1,2 addition] has a mono substituted alkene (one carbon substituent) while the bottom transition state [1,4 addition] leads to a disubstituted alkene. Since alkene stability increases with the number of carbon substituents, the bottom product will be more thermodynamically stable. 

In short, the kinetic product (1,2 in this case) is easier to form, but the thermodynamic product (1,4) is more stable.

3. The Reaction Coordinate Diagram For 1,2- and 1,4- Addition Of HCl To Butadiene

The reaction coordinate diagram looks like this.

energy diagram for kinetic versus thermodynamic control of hcl addition to butadiene at various temperatures depending on conditions either 12 or 14 product will be favored

Each reaction begins with diene A, and then progresses through a transition state (B) to form resonance stabilized carbocation C.  , which undergo attack through transition states D to give final products E.

The height of each step in the process is related to its overall energy.

  • When temperature is low, there is enough energy to form the 1,2-product –  and that’s it. The product ratio is determined by the reaction rate (i.e. the height of the transition state D). Such a reaction is said to be under kinetic control.
  •  When temperature is high, there is enough energy to form both the 1,2- and the 1,4-products. Furthermore, the reaction to form products is reversible (i.e. there is enough energy to go from E → D and thence back to C.  In this case the ratio of products is determined by the relative thermodynamic stabilities (i.e. the height of E). Such a reaction is said to be under thermodynamic control.

So it’s a little bit like buying can openers. There’s a lower barrier for buying the cheapest one,  but the more expensive one is often the more stable product overall.

As Benjamin Graham said,  “Price is what you pay: value is what you get. ”


Note 1. The can opener analogy doesn’t go into the “reversibility” part of things. However if you had a large population of people who had to make the identical decision, the population of people with deluxe/crappy can openers should likewise segment according to cost and reliability as a function of available resources. Note that if the product is too stable, nobody ever buys a replacement and the company goes out of business. That’s where planned obsolescence comes in. 

Note 2.  Not all additions to dienes follow this pattern. It is important to be able to evaluate the relative carbocation stabilities and alkene substitution patterns independently for each given diene. Don’t automatically assume that the “1,4” product is always the most stable (try cyclopentadiene, for instance). For a good time, also try 2,5-dimethyl-2, 4 hexadiene. 

Note 3.  When you buy an item from the dollar store with moving parts, caveat emptor.  


Comment section

21 thoughts on “Thermodynamic and Kinetic Products

  1. What to do with the temperature? I mean what range of temperature should be considered high and what as low.
    Just asking coz 40℃ sounds as low temperature but it is going with thermodynamically controlled conditions

    1. It depends on the reaction. If you’re talking about addition of HBr to dienes, which is normally the case for these kinds of discussion, then 40 degrees celsius is on the high side.

  2. Please tell me where are the answers to the three questions in the post on reactions of dienes:1,2 and 1,4 addition?

  3. Dear James,

    Is the activation energy during the formation of a thermodynamic product always greater than that of a kinetic product, and is a thermodynamic product always more stable than the kinetic product?

    Basically, can I ever find such a thing as a cheap can opener that’ll last?

  4. Hi, James
    Thanks for the awesome analogy to your can opener incident I now understand the difference between kinetic and thermodynamic control. My next question is; besides for reaction reversability, is there a way to predict whether a specific reaction will be under thermodynamic or kinetic control? Or is reversibility the main determinant?
    My question arises because on introduction of the diene reactions in class some people knew immediately whether the reaction was underthermodynamic vs kinetic control without information of the major product and so I want to know how they did it so i can too.

    1. How to know if a reaction will be under kinetic or thermodynamic control? As you alluded to, reversibility is the key criterion.
      Without reversibility, there is no thermodynamic control.

      There’s no hard-and-fast temperature I can cite to you, but if you see “reflux”, “heat”, or the “delta” symbol, that’s a clue that it’s probably be under thermodynamic control.

  5. The explanation that one carbocation is more stable than the other is misleading here. The two carbocations are resonance structures of each other – that means they are the same carbocation. Being the same species, they form at the same rate. If you used an unsymmetrical diene, say 1,3-pentadiene, then there would be two different carbocations that are not resonance structures, and the more stable carbocation would be favored, with the proton adding at carbon 1 forming carbcation with two secondary allylic resonance structures, rather than adding at carbon 4 to give the carbocation with one primary allylic and one secondary allylic resonance structure.

    The more stable carbocation can then go on to give both a 1,2- and a 1,4 product, but both products are formed from the same carbocation. The 1,2-product being the kinetic product is better explained in terms of a proximity effect, and the 1,4-product being more substituted and therefor more stable.

  6. Although carbocation stability increases with substitution, isn’t a substituted allylic carbocation (the one formed in 1,2 addition) the most stable kind, even though it isn’t tertiary? Along the same lines, is an allyl carbocation more stable than a secondary carbocation even though it’s on a terminal carbon? Thanks!

    1. The short answer is yes.

      The long answer is: there are two factors at work here: increasing substitution, and resonance.

      In order to compare the relative effects of both factors, it’s necessary to examine experimental data.

      One example is to look at the rate of ionization of different alkyl and allyl halides, which is found in March’s Advanced Organic Chemistry – exact page reference escaping me at the moment, because my book is elsewhere.

      That data indicates that primary allylic carbocations are considerably more stable than secondary carbocations.

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