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J Phys Chem B. 2014 Jun 19;118(24):6553-60. doi: 10.1021/jp500200b. Epub 2014 Apr 21.

Experimental and computational studies on the mechanism of zwitterionic ring-opening polymerization of δ-valerolactone with N-heterocyclic carbenes.

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Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago , 5735 South Ellis Avenue, Room GHJ 222, Chicago, Illinois 60637, United States.


Experimental and computational investigations of the zwitterionic ring-opening polymerization (ZROP) of δ-valerolactone (VL) catalyzed by the N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHC) 1,3-diisopropyl-4,5-dimethyl-imidazol-2-ylidene (1) and 1,3,4,5-tetramethyl-imidazol-2-ylidene (2) were carried out. The ZROP of δ-valerolactone generates cyclic poly(valerolactone)s whose molecular weights are higher than predicted from [VL]0/[NHC]0. Kinetic studies reveal the rate of polymerization is first order in [VL] and first order in [NHC]. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations were carried out to elucidate the key steps involved in the ring-opening of δ-valerolactone and its subsequent oligomerization. These studies have established that the initial steps of the mechanism involve nucleophilic attack of the NHC on δ-valerolactone to form a zwitterionic tetrahedral intermediate. DFT calculations indicate that the highest activation barrier of the entire mechanism is associated with the ring-opening of the tetrahedral intermediate formed from the NHC and δ-valerolactone, a result consistent with inefficient initiation to generate reactive zwitterions. The large barrier in this step is due to the fact that ring-opening requires a partial positive charge to develop next to the directly attached NHC moiety which already bears a delocalized positive charge.


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