Catalytic borylation of methane

Science  25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280, pp. 1424-1427
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9730

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Methane borylation in a cyclohexane sea

Although methane combusts readily at high temperatures, it is generally the hardest hydrocarbon to transform under gentler conditions, owing to its particularly strong C-H bonds. Cook et al. now show that soluble rhodium, iridium, and ruthenium catalysts can slice through these C-H bonds to add boron substituents to methane at 150°C. Smith et al. report the iridium-catalyzed reaction using phosphine ligands to enhance activity. Both studies were performed in cyclohexane solvent, revealing a remarkable selective preference for the methane reaction over functionalization of the cyclic hydrocarbon.

Science, this issue pp. 1421 and 1424


Despite steady progress in catalytic methods for the borylation of hydrocarbons, methane has not yet been subject to this transformation. Here we report the iridium-catalyzed borylation of methane using bis(pinacolborane) in cyclohexane solvent. Initially, trace amounts of borylated products were detected with phenanthroline-coordinated Ir complexes. A combination of experimental high-pressure and high-throughput screening, and computational mechanism discovery techniques helped to rationalize the foundation of the catalysis and identify improved phosphine-coordinated catalytic complexes. Optimized conditions of 150°C and 3500-kilopascal pressure led to yields as high as ~52%, turnover numbers of 100, and improved chemoselectivity for monoborylated versus diborylated methane.

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