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Catalyst Control of Selectivity in the C–O Bond Alumination of Biomass Derived Furans

revised on 26.05.2020, 09:16 and posted on 27.05.2020, 11:32 by Thomas N hooper, Ryan Brown, Feriel Rekhroukh, Martí Garçon, Andrew J. P. White, Paulo J. Costa, Mark Crimmin
Non-catalysed and catalysed reactions of aluminium reagents with furans, dihydrofurans and dihydropyrans were investigated and lead to the ring-expanded products due to the formal insertion of the aluminium reagent into a C–O bond of the heterocycle. Specifically, the reaction of [{(ArNCMe)2CH}Al] (Ar = 2,6-di-iso-propylphenyl, 1) with furan, 2-methylfuran, 2,3-dimethylfuran and 2-methoxyfuran proceeded between 25 and 80 ºC leading to ring-expanded and dearomatised products due to the net transformation of a sp2 C–O bond into a sp2 C–Al bond. The kinetics of the reaction of 1 with furan were found to be 1st order with respect to 1 with activation parameters ΔH‡ = +19.7 (± 2.7) kcal mol-1, ΔS‡ = –18.8 (± 7.8) cal K-1 mol-1 and ΔG‡298 K = +25.3 (± 0.5) kcal mol-1 and a KIE of 1.0 ± 0.1. DFT calculations support a stepwise mechanism involving an initial (4+1) cycloaddition of 1 with furan to form a bicyclic intermediate that rearranges by an a-migration. The selectivity of ring-expansion is influenced by factors that weaken the sp2 C–O bond through population of the s*-orbital. Inclusion of [Pd(PCy3)2] as a catalyst in these reactions results in expansion of the substrate scope to include 2,3-dihydrofurans and 3,4-dihydropyrans but also improves the selectivity. Under catalysed conditions, the C–O bond that breaks is that adjacent to C–H bond. The aluminium(III) dihydride reagent [{(MesNCMe)2CH}AlH2] (Mes = 2,4,6-trimethylphenyl, 2) can also be used under catalytic conditions to effect a dehydrogenative ring-expansion of furans. Further mechanistic analysis of the Pd-catalysed reaction of 1 with furan shows that C–O bond functionalisation occurs via an initial C–H bond alumination. Kinetic products can be isolated that are derived from installation of the aluminium reagent at the 2-position of the heterocycle. C–H alumination proceeds with a strong primary KIE of 4.8 ± 0.3 consistent with a turnover limiting step involving oxidative addition of the C–H bond to a palladium catalyst. Isomerisation of the kinetic C–H aluminated product to the thermodynamic C–O ring expansion product is an intramolecular process that is again catalysed by [Pd(PCy3)2]. DFT calculations suggest that the key C–O bond breaking step involves attack of an aluminium based metalloligand on the 2-palladated heterocycle. The new methodology has been applied to the upgrading of molecules derived from furfuraldehyde, an important platform chemical from biomass.


ERC Marie-Curie FluoroCross (745806)

ERC StG FluoroFix (677367)


Email Address of Submitting Author


Imperial College London


United Kingdom

ORCID For Submitting Author


Declaration of Conflict of Interest

Authors declare no conflict of interest

Version Notes

version 2 - revision