M. Hong, X. Tang, L. Falivene, L. Caporaso, L. Cavallo and E. Y.-X. Chen
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138 (6), 2021-2035, (2016)
This contribution presents a full account of experimental and theoretical/computational investigations into the N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC)-catalyzed proton-transfer polymerization (HTP) that converts common dimethacrylates (DMAs) containing no protic groups into unsaturated polyesters. This new HTP proceeds through the step-growth propagation cycles via enamine intermediates, consisting of the proposed conjugate addition–proton transfer–NHC release fundamental steps. This study examines the monomer and catalyst scopes as well as the fundamental steps involved in the overall HTP mechanism. DMAs having six different types of linkages connecting the two methacrylates have been polymerized into the corresponding unsaturated polyesters. The most intriguing unsaturated polyester of the series is that based on the biomass-derived furfuryl dimethacrylate, which showed a unique self-curing ability. Four MeO- and Cl-substituted TPT (1,3,4-triphenyl-4,5-dihydro-1H-1,2,4-triazol-5-ylidene) derivatives as methanol insertion products, RxTPT(MeO/H) (R = MeO, Cl; x = 2, 3), and two free carbenes (catalysts), OMe2TPT and OMe3TPT, have been synthesized, while OMe2TPT(MeO/H) and OMe2TPT have also been structurally characterized. The structure/reactivity relationship study revealed that OMe2TPT, being both a strong nucleophile and a good leaving group, exhibits the highest HTP activity and also produced the polyester with the highest Mn, while the Cl-substituted TPT derivatives are least active and efficient. Computational studies have provided mechanistic insights into the tail-to-tail dimerization coupling step as a suitable model for the propagation cycle of the HTP. The extensive energy profile was mapped out, and the experimentally observed unicity of the TPT-based catalysts was satisfactorily explained with the thermodynamic formation of key spirocyclic species.