Meeting Program – November 2012
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
University of Delaware
Abstract – In this paper we present the detailed mechanism for the conversion of DMF and ethylene to p-xylene. The mechanism was calculated by gas-phase DFT (Density-Functional Theory) for the uncatalyzed, the Brønsted acid-catalyzed and the Lewis acid-catalyzed reaction. The conversion consists of Diels-Alder cycloaddition and subsequent dehydration of the cycloadduct, an oxa-norbornene derivative. Even though the DMF-ethylene cycloaddition is thermally feasible, we find that Lewis acids can further lower the activation barriers by decreasing the HOMO-LUMO gap of the addends. The catalytic effect may be significant or negligible depending on whether the Diels-Alder reaction proceeds in the normal or the inverse electron-demand direction. We find that Brønsted acids are extremely effective at catalyzing the dehydration of the oxa-norbornene derivative, which, according to our calculations, cannot proceed uncatalyzed. On the other hand, we find that Brønsted acids do not catalyze the cycloaddition. Although strong Lewis acids like Li+ can catalyze the dehydration, our calculations indicate that relatively elevated temperatures would be required as they are not as effective as Brønsted acids. We argue that the specific synthetic route to p-xylene is kinetically limited by the Diels-Alder reaction when Brønsted acids are used and by the dehydration when a Lewis acid is used, with the latter being slower than the former. Finally, we adduce experimental data that corroborate the theoretical predictions: we observe no activity in the absence of a catalyst and a higher turnover frequency to p-xylene in the Brønsted acidic zeolite HY than in the Lewis acidic zeolite NaY.