Alcohols, Epoxides and Ethers
Elimination of Alcohols To Alkenes With POCl3
Last updated: August 22nd, 2022 |
POCl3 For The Elimination Of Alcohols To Alkenes
Phosphorus oxychloride (POCl3) is a useful reagent for cleanly performing elimination reactions on alcohols.
- POCl3 converts the OH group into a good leaving group
- A base such as pyridine is generally added, which performs an E2 elimination to give the more substituted double bond
- Elimination occurs without rearrangements.
Table Of Contents
- Two Ways To Convert Alcohols To Alkenes We’ve Learned Previously
- Direct Elimination of Alcohols To Alkenes With POCl3: The Mechanism
- The Reaction Works For Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Alcohols
- Summary: Direct Elimination of Alcohols With POCl3
- (Advanced) References and Further Reading
Here’s what we talk about today: more eliminations of alcohols! Note that this reagent isn’t covered in all courses, but I’ll include it here for completeness’ sake.
We’ve talked about 2 ways to convert alcohols to alkenes so far:
Option #1: Convert the alcohol to an alkyl halide [with SOCl2, PBr3, or a hydrohalic acid] and then treat with a strong base like NaOEt or similar to produce the alkene through an E2 process [2 operations]
Option #2: Heat the alcohol with a strong non-nucleophilic acid like H2SO4 or H3PO4 [1 operation]. [see post]
So which is better? Well, actually they both have their drawbacks.
- Converting an alcohol to an alkyl halide followed by treatment with base is two separate operations. This is OK, but it would be nice to be able to do this in one step.
- Heating alcohols with strong acids is a one-step process, but can lead to carbocation rearrangements. Ideally we’d like to have better control of the products of these reactions, and avoid byproducts that come from hydride or alkyl shifts.
Before we go any further, you might think this is nitpicky. You might think, “two steps! Who cares!! What’s the big deal?” .
The big deal is – we CARE about our time – a lot!
Think about how much you hate it when a website takes more than 3 seconds to load. People will walk through a nicely manicured garden to shave five seconds off their journey.
Chemists are no different. If there’s a way to do something in one step instead of two, we’ll take it! So yes, one step instead of two matters to us.
Today we talk about a process that gives us the best of both worlds – a one-step process that proceeds under much milder conditions than heating with acid.
It doesn’t get covered in all introductory organic chemistry courses, but for completeness, we’ll cover it here.
Hydroxide (HO- ) is a very poor leaving group. In order for alcohols to participate in substitution and elimination reactions, it’s best to modify the oxygen in some way so as to be able to stabilize the negative charge generated when the C-O bond breaks.
One way we’ve seen how to do this is by converting alcohols to alkyl sulfonates, such as tosylates or mesylates.
It would also work if we converted an alcohol to an alkyl phosphate [itself a good leaving group], but as it turns out the OH groups on phosphate are acidic and can interfere with the basic reagents we typically use for elimination. So a compromise is to use the reagent phosphorus oxychloride (POCl3), a derivative of phosphoric acid. When POCl3 is added to an alcohol, we form a new O-P bond [the oxygen phosphorus bond is strong] and break a P-Cl bond to form what we could call a “chlorophosphate ester”.
Here’s how it works:
This process proceeds in on operation, is much milder than heating an alcohol with strong acid and doesn’t result in rearrangements.
It works for primary, secondary, and tertiary alcohols.
Like I said it doesn’t appear in all introductory courses but it’s important to know that when you see it, think “elimination”. Importantly, don’t confuse this reagent with PBr3 or PCl3 –> those will convert an alcohol to an alkyl halide, which is not the same reaction at all!
This is all we’ll have to say about substitution and elimination reactions of alcohols, for now. In the next few posts, we’ll go through a special property of alcohols – the ability of certain reagents to lead to their “oxidation” to species such as aldehydes, ketones, and carboxylic acids. More next time!
- The Effect of Structure on the Course of Phosphoryl Chloride-Pyridine Dehydration of Tertiary Alcohols
Ronald R. Sauers
Journal of the American Chemical Society 1959 81(18), 4873-4876
- Stereospecificity and regiospecificity of the phosphorus oxychloride dehydration of sterol side chain alcohols
Jose Luis Giner, Christian Margot, and Carl Djerassi
The Journal of Organic Chemistry 1989 54(2), 369-373
This article by the legendary chemist Carl Djerassi (who developed norethindrone, the first female contraceptive) describes the selectivity of POCl3-pyridine dehydration conditions in steroid synthesis. It also has a general procedure for POCl3-pyridine dehydration in the experimental section.
- A general approach to linearly fused triquinane natural products. Total syntheses of (.+-.)-hirsutene, (.+-.)-coriolin, and (.+-.)-capnellene
Goverdhan Mehta, A. Narayana. Murthy, D. Sivakumar. Reddy, and A. Veera. Reddy
Journal of the American Chemical Society 1986108(12), 3443-3452
This paper by Prof. Goverdhan Mehta demonstrates the applicability of the POCl-pyridine dehydration in natural product total synthesis.
- The 3-methylcholestanols and their derivatives
D. H. R. Barton, A. da S. Campos-Neves and R. C. Cookson
J. Chem. Soc., 1956, 3500-3506
This paper by Nobel Laureate Prof. Derek H. R. Barton has a POCl3-pyridine dehydration (see p. 3504-3505 in the experimental section).