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Reductive Lithiation in the Absence of Aromatic Electron Carriers. A Steric Effect Manifested on the Surface of Lithium Metal Leads to a Difference in Relative Reactivity Depending on Whether the Aromatic Electron Carrier Is Present or Absent

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journal contribution
posted on 04.09.2015, 00:00 by Nicole Kennedy, Gang Lu, Peng Liu, Theodore Cohen
One of the most widely used methods of preparation of organolithium compounds is by the reductive lithiation of alkyl phenyl thioethers or, usually less conveniently, alkyl halides with either aromatic radical-anions of lithium or lithium metal in the presence of an aromatic electron-transfer catalyst. Here we present results showing that lithium dispersion can achieve reductive lithiation in the absence of the electron-transfer agent. This procedure is more efficient, and surprisingly, the order of reactivity of substrates is reversed depending on whether the electron-transfer agent is present or absent. For example, in the presence of a preformed radical-anion, tert-butyl phenyl sulfide cleaves significantly faster than methyl phenyl sulfide, whereas in the absence of the radical-anion, it is just the opposite. Density functional theory calculations reveal that the exothermicity of the cleavage of the C–S bond in alkyl phenyl thioethers on the lithium surface is dependent on the size of the alkyl group, the smaller the alkyl group the greater the exothermicity. The increased reactivity is attributed to the smaller steric repulsion between the alkyl group and the lithium surface. The methodology includes, but may not be limited to, the lithium dispersion reductive lithiation of phenyl thioethers, alkyl chlorides, acrolein diethyl acetal, and isochroman.