The Union Carbide (UC) ethylene polymerization catalysts, based on chromocene dispersed on silica, show distinct features from the Phillips catalysts, but share the same heated debate regarding the structure of its active sites. Based on a combination of IR, EPR spectroscopies, labelling experiments, and DFT modelling, we identified monomeric surface-supported Cr(III) hydrides, (≡SiO)Cr(Cp)-H, as the active sites of the UC catalyst. These sites are formed in the presence of grafted and adsorbed chromocene as well as residual surface OH groups, only possible at high Cr loading, and involves a C-H activation of the Cp ring. These Cr-hydrides initiate polymerization, yielding Cr(III) alkyl species that insert ethylene through a Cossee-Arlman-type mechanism, as evidenced by spectroscopic studies. These insights inspired the design of a well-defined analogue, CpCr(CH(SiMe3)2)2 grafted on partially dehydroxylated silica, that shows similar spectroscopic and polymer structure as the UC catalyst, further supporting the proposed active site structure.
Methods and additional data.