Tertiary Amines Paired with Trialkyl Boranes: A Simple Organocatalyst for Fully Alternating Copolymerization of Carbon Dioxide and Propylene Oxide


Metal-free synthesis of fully alternating polycarbonates from carbon dioxide (CO2) and epoxides is highly desired but a huge challenge. Here, we disclose the combination of tertiary amines with trialkyl boranes for completely alternating copolymerization of CO2 with epoxides. Triethylamine (TEA) pairing with triethyl borane (TEB), the simplest catalyst for the copolymerization of CO2 and propylene oxide (PO), afforded fully alternating poly(propylene carbonate) (PPC) with a turnover frequency (TOF) of 54 h-1 at 60 oC. Remarkably, diamine such as, N,N,N',N'-tetraethylethylenediamine (TEED) and triamine such as N,N,N',N'',N''-pentamethyldiethylene triamine (PMDETA) pairing with TEB exhibited improved the copolymer selectivity of up to 99%. Supplementally, the effect of trialkylborane structure on the copolymerization were also investigated. Moreover, PPCs prepared from these tertiary amines/ trialkyl boranes Lewis pairs showed the head-to-tail diad content of around 80%. The number-average molecular weight of PPC was up to 56.0 kg/mol with narrow distribution (Đ =1.16) and could be easily adjusted by simply varying the feeding ratios. The 1H NMR spectra and MALDI-TOF-MS spectra suggest that both tertiary amine-activating CO2 and TEB-masked end anions cooperatively promote the fully alternating CO2/epoxide copolymerization. This work provides an organocatalytic platform for well-defined CO2/epoxide copolymers using simple small molecules with high atomic utilization.