Highly Enantioselective Organocatalytic Trifluoromethyl Carbinol SynthesisA Caveat on Reaction Times and Product Isolation

Aldol reactions with trifluoroacetophenones as acceptors yield chiral α-aryl, α-trifluoromethyl tertiary alcohols, valuable intermediates in organic synthesis. Of the various organocatalysts examined, Singh’s catalyst [(2S)-N-[(1S)-1-hydroxydiphenylmethyl-3-methylbutyl]-2-pyrrolidinecarbox­amide] was found to efficiently promote this organocatalytic transformation in a highly enantioselective manner. Detailed reaction monitoring (19F-NMR, HPLC) showed that, up to full conversion, the catalytic transformation proceeds under kinetic control and affords up to 95% ee in a time-independent manner. At longer reaction times, the catalyst effects racemization. For the product aldols, even weak acids (such as ammonium chloride) or protic solvents, can induce racemization, too. Thus, acid-free workup, at carefully chosen reaction time, is crucial for the isolation of the aldols in high (and stable) enantiomeric purity. As evidenced by 19F-NMR, X-ray structural analysis, and independent synthesis of a stable intramolecular variant, Singh’s catalyst reversibly forms a catalytically inactive (“parasitic”) intermediate, namely a N,O-hemiacetal with trifluoroacetophenones. X-ray crystallography also allowed the determination of the product aldols’ absolute configuration (S).