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Because of their enhanced acidity, carboxylic acids react with bases to form ionic salts, as shown in the following equations. In the case of alkali metal hydroxides and simple amines (or ammonia) the resulting salts have pronounced ionic character and are usually soluble in water. Heavy metals such as silver, mercury and lead form salts having more covalent character (3rd example), and the water solubility is reduced, especially for acids composed of four or more carbon atoms.
|RCO2(–) Na(+) + CO2 + H2O
|RCO2δ(-) Agδ(+) + H2O
Carboxylic acids and salts having alkyl chains longer than six carbons exhibit unusual behavior in water due to the presence of both hydrophilic (CO2) and hydrophobic (alkyl) regions in the same molecule. Such molecules are termed amphiphilic (Gk. amphi = both) or amphipathic. Depending on the nature of the hydrophilic portion these compounds may form monolayers on the water surface or sphere-like clusters, called micelles, in solution.
This reaction class could be termed electrophilic substitution at oxygen, and is defined as follows (E is an electrophile). Some examples of this substitution are provided in equations (1) through (4).
|RCO2–H + E(+)
|RCO2–E + H(+)
If E is a strong electrophile, as in the first equation, it will attack the nucleophilic oxygen of the carboxylic acid directly, giving a positively charged intermediate which then loses a proton. If E is a weak electrophile, such as an alkyl halide, it is necessary to convert the carboxylic acid to the more nucleophilic carboxylate anion to facilitate the substitution. This is the procedure used in reactions 2 and 3. Equation 4 illustrates the use of the reagent diazomethane (CH2N2) for the preparation of methyl esters. This toxic and explosive gas is always used as an ether solution (bright yellow in color). The reaction is easily followed by the evolution of nitrogen gas and the disappearance of the reagent's color. This reaction is believed to proceed by the rapid bonding of a strong electrophile to a carboxylate anion.
The nature of SN2 reactions, as in equations 2 & 3, has been described elsewhere. The mechanisms of reactions 1 & 4 will be displayed by clicking the "Toggle Mechanism" button below the diagram.
Alkynes may also serve as electrophiles in substitution reactions of this kind, as illustrated by the synthesis of vinyl acetate from acetylene. Intramolecular carboxyl group additions to alkenes generate cyclic esters known as lactones. Five-membered (gamma) and six-membered (delta) lactones are most commonly formed. Electrophilic species such as acids or halogens are necessary initiators of lactonizations. Even the weak electrophile iodine initiates iodolactonization of γ,δ- and δ,ε-unsaturated acids. Examples of these reactions will be displayed by clicking the "Other Examples" button.
Reactions in which the hydroxyl group of a carboxylic acid is replaced by another nucleophilic group are important for preparing functional derivatives of carboxylic acids. The alcohols provide a useful reference chemistry against which this class of transformations may be evaluated. In general, the hydroxyl group proved to be a poor leaving group, and virtually all alcohol reactions in which it was lost involved a prior conversion of –OH to a better leaving group. This has proven to be true for the carboxylic acids as well.
Four examples of these hydroxyl substitution reactions are presented by the following equations. In each example, the new bond to the carbonyl group is colored magenta and the nucleophilic atom that has replaced the hydroxyl oxygen is colored green. The hydroxyl moiety is often lost as water, but in reaction #1 the hydrogen is lost as HCl and the oxygen as SO2. This reaction parallels a similar transformation of alcohols to alkyl chlorides, although its mechanism is different. Other reagents that produce a similar conversion to acyl halides are PCl5 and SOBr2.
The amide and anhydride formations shown in equations #2 & 3 require strong heating, and milder procedures that accomplish these transformations will be described in the next chapter.
Reaction #4 is called esterification, since it is commonly used to convert carboxylic acids to their ester derivatives. Esters may be prepared in many different ways; indeed, equations #1 and #4 in the previous diagram illustrate the formation of tert-butyl and methyl esters respectively. The acid-catalyzed formation of ethyl acetate from acetic acid and ethanol shown here is reversible, with an equilibrium constant near 2. The reaction can be forced to completion by removing the water as it is formed. This type of esterification is often referred to as Fischer esterification. As expected, the reverse reaction, acid-catalyzed ester hydrolysis, can be carried out by adding excess water.
A thoughtful examination of this reaction (#4) leads one to question why it is classified as a hydroxyl substitution rather than a hydrogen substitution. The following equations, in which the hydroxyl oxygen atom of the carboxylic acid is colored red and that of the alcohol is colored blue, illustrate this distinction (note that the starting compounds are in the center).
H2O + CH3CO-OCH2CH3
CH3CO-OCH2CH3 + H2O
In order to classify this reaction correctly and establish a plausible mechanism, the oxygen atom of the alcohol was isotopically labeled as 18O (colored blue in our equation). Since this oxygen is found in the ester product and not the water, the hydroxyl group of the acid must have been replaced in the substitution. A mechanism for this general esterification reaction will be displayed on clicking the "Esterification Mechanism" button; also, once the mechanism diagram is displayed, a reaction coordinate for it can be seen by clicking the head of the green "energy diagram" arrow. Addition-elimination mechanisms of this kind proceed by way of tetrahedral intermediates (such as A and B in the mechanism diagram) and are common in acyl substitution reactions. Acid catalysis is necessary to increase the electrophilic character of the carboxyl carbon atom, so it will bond more rapidly to the nucleophilic oxygen of the alcohol. Base catalysis is not useful because base converts the acid to its carboxylate anion conjugate base, a species in which the electrophilic character of the carbon is reduced.
Since a tetrahedral intermediate occupies more space than a planar carbonyl group, we would expect the rate of this reaction to be retarded when bulky reactants are used. To test this prediction the esterification of acetic acid was compared with that of 2,2-dimethylpropanoic acid, (CH3)3CO2H. Here the relatively small methyl group of acetic acid is replaced by a larger tert-butyl group, and the bulkier acid reacted fifty times slower than acetic acid. Increasing the bulk of the alcohol reactant results in a similar rate reduction.
Reduction & Oxidation Reactions
The carbon atom of a carboxyl group is in a relatively high oxidation state. Reduction to a 1º-alcohol takes place rapidly on treatment with the powerful metal hydride reagent, lithium aluminum hydride, as shown by the following equation. One third of the hydride is lost as hydrogen gas, and the initial product consists of metal salts which must be hydrolyzed to generate the alcohol. These reductions take place by the addition of hydride to the carbonyl carbon, in the same manner noted earlier for aldehydes and ketones. The resulting salt of a carbonyl hydrate then breaks down to an aldehyde that undergoes further reduction.
4 RCO2H + 3 LiAlH4
4 H2 + 4 RCH2OM + metal oxides
4 RCH2OH + metal hydroxides
Diborane, B2H6, reduces the carboxyl group in a similar fashion. Sodium borohydride, NaBH4, does not reduce carboxylic acids; however, hydrogen gas is liberated and salts of the acid are formed. Partial reduction of carboxylic acids directly to aldehydes is not possible, but such conversions have been achieved in two steps by way of certain carboxyl derivatives. These will be described later.
Because it is already in a high oxidation state, further oxidation removes the carboxyl carbon as carbon dioxide. Depending on the reaction conditions, the oxidation state of the remaining organic structure may be higher, lower or unchanged. The following reactions are all examples of decarboxylation (loss of CO2). In the first, bromine replaces the carboxyl group, so both the carboxyl carbon atom and the remaining organic moiety are oxidized. Silver salts have also been used to initiate this transformation, which is known as the Hunsdiecker reaction. The second reaction is an interesting bis-decarboxylation, in which the atoms of the organic residue retain their original oxidation states. Lead tetraacetate will also oxidize mono-carboxylic acids in a manner similar to reaction #1. Finally, the third example illustrates the general decarboxylation of β-keto acids, which leaves the organic residue in a reduced state (note that the CO2 carbon has increased its oxidation state.).
Three additional examples of the Hunsdiecker reaction and a proposed mechanism for the transformation will be shown above by clicking on the diagram. Note that the meta- dihalobenzene formed in reaction 4 could not be made by direct halogenation reactions, since chlorine and bromine are ortho/para-directing substituents. Also, various iodide derivatives may be prepared directly from the corresponding carboxylic acids. A heavy metal carboxylate salt is transformed into an acyl hypohalide by the action of a halogen. The weak oxygen-halogen bond in this intermediate cleaves homolytically when heated or exposed to light, and the resulting carboxy radical decarboxylates to an alkyl or aryl radical. A chain reaction then repeats these events. Since acyl hypohalites are a source of electrophilic halogen, this reaction takes a different course when double bonds and reactive benzene derivatives are present. In this respect remember the addition of hypohalous reagents to double bonds and the facile bromination of anisole.
For a summary of the basic reactions of carboxylic acids Click Here