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Clay Minerals (1983) 18, 437-445.
A. C O R N E L I S ,
P. L A S Z L O
Universit~ de Liege, Institut de Chimie Organique B6, Sart- Tilman, B-4000 Liege, Belgium
(Received 13 May 1983)
A B S T R A C T : Some uses of clay-supportedreagents in fine organic synthesis are discussed, in
particular the catalysis of the phase-transferpreparation of formaldehydeacetals by quaternary
ammonium montmorillonites. The preparation and some applications of clay-supported ferric
nitrate, a new reagent which oxidizes alcohols into carbonyl derivatives, couples thiols into
disulphides, nitrates phenols, and oxidatively couples pyrrole and benzaldehyde into tetraphenylporphyrin, are also described
During the last few years, organic chemists have paid considerable attention to organic
reactions effected by reagents immobilized on highly-divided solids, for which the name
'supported reagents' has been coined (Posner, 1978; McKillop & Young, 1979; Frechet,
1981). These reagents may be placed in two groups depending on the nature of the
1. The support is an organic polymer to which, usually, the reagent is covalently bound.
The archetype of such polymer-supported reagents is the famous Merrifield resin
(Merrifield, 1963), which consists of a chloromethylated copolymer of styrene and
2. The support is an inorganic array, such as graphite, alumina, silica, various metal
oxides or clays. In general, the reagent is adsorbed on, or intercalated within, such an
inorganic matrix. A well-known, widely-used supported reagent of this second group is
silver carbonate precipitated on celite (F&izon & Golfier, 1968).
The reactions performed with such reagents frequently display an increase of selectivity
when compared to the analogous homogeneous reactions. They also imply milder
conditions, and simpler and more economical set-up and work-up as they mainly use
ordinary solvents in open flasks. Separation of products requires only a simple filtration. In
some cases the presence of the support activates an otherwise inert reagent or substrate.
The novel applications of clay minerals towards organic syntheses developed in our
laboratory belong to this second category and we describe here: (i) the use of quaternary
ammonium clays as phase-transfer catalysts, and (ii) the potentialities for oxidation
reactions of a new reagent--clay-supported ferric nitrate ('clayfen').
1983 The Mineralogical Society
A. Corndlis et al.
A M M O N I U M C L A Y S AS P H A S E - T R A N S F E R
Phase-transfer catalysis is a preparative technique which has provoked considerable
interest among organic chemists during the last decade (Caub6re, 1982; Dehmlow &
Dehmlow, 1980; Starks & Liotta, 1978; Weber & Gokel, 1977). It is based on the
extraction of an anionic reactive species, A-, from an inorganic phase (often a water
solution) into an organic, non-miscible phase, in which it reacts with its target molecule,
inorganic phase
organic phase
Q+X- + A- --, Q+Ai.
Q+X- + AB ,- Q+A- + BX
The extraction is effected by ionic coupling with a positively charged, lipophilic carrier
Q+, most often a quaternary ammonium cation. The latter is introduced as a salt, Q+Y ; in
order to minimize interferences between Y- and the active species A-, it is important to
insure that the counterion Y- (or its degradation products) have (i) minimum
nucleophilicity and (ii) maximum hydrophilicity. We reasoned that a quaternary
ammonium montmorillonite would combine the potential for release of an active onium
moiety Q+ with an almost ideal counterion, provided by the clay polyanionic sheets or
their degradation products. Thus it should be a suitable phase-transfer catalyst. The same
idea was formulated independently by Monzef-Mirzai & McWhinnie (1981).
We tested this working hypothesis on the synthesis of symmetrical formaldehyde
acetals, which we needed in connection with our continuing interest in the complexing of
cations by polyethers (Corn61is et al., 1978; Bouquant et al., 1982) or other chelating
agents (Chalais et al., 1983). Such molecules are accessible in good yields by published
procedures, including phase-transfer processes (Dehmlow & Schmidt, 1976).
Nevertheless, we wanted to elaborate a phase-transfer procedure, with a clay catalyst, in
order to dispense with the necessity of using powdered potassium hydroxide. Tixogel VP, a
quaternary ammonium montmorillonite employed in the paint industry, was the catalyst
we chose. With it, we prepared the desired acetals in good yields (Table 1) by reaction of
alcohols with dihalomethanes in the presence of 50% aqueous sodium hydroxide,
according to the reaction (Corn61is & Laszlo, 1982):
CH2X 2 +
a VP CHE(OR)2 + 2NaX.
With phenols, secondary aliphatic alcohols, or in the presence of a nitrogen heterocycle,
our procedure does not afford satisfactory yields.
Organic syntheses with clay
TABLE 1. Formaldehyde acetals from dihalomethane and alcohols (Corn61is
& Laszlo, 1982)
C2X 2
A. .oAo A.
Isolatedyield (%)
The reagent
Clay-supported ferric nitrate, 'clayfen', is a promising new reagent made in our
laboratory (Corn61is & Laszlo, 1980). Whereas the use ofiron(III) nitrate as a catalyst for
organic reaction is not unusual (for a recent example see Perumal & Baker, 1980), we are
not aware of any previous application of this salt as a reagent for the preparation of fine
organic chemicals. In addition to some elementary physico-chemical considerations, the
rationale for its initial selection as a potential guest for a clay was its low cost and ready
The K-10 host was chosen after a few empirical tests, on the basis both of its strong
acidity and of its ease of manipulation during the various stages of the process. Moreover,
its availability from industrial suppliers gave us the assurance of invariable specifications.
The 'clayfen' reagent is prepared by dissolution of iron(III) nitrate nonahydrate in
acetone, which results in a clear, rust-coloured solution which rapidly decays to a muddy,
light-brown suspension to which the K-10 catalyst is added. (The proportions are 45 g of
Fe(NO3) 3. 9H20 in 750 ml of acetone for 60 g of K-10 clay.) The solvent is removed with
a rotatory evaporator under water-pump vacuum at 50~ affording a free-flowing yellow
powder. The freshly prepared reagent shows maximum chemical reactivity. For some
applications, however, aged reagent (up to two weeks old) may be used, at the expense of
the rapidity of the process.
For most applications, the typical experimental procedure achieves both simplicity and
low cost. 'Clayfen' is added, while stirring, to the substrate dissolved in an appropriate
solvent (a hydrocarbon, if possible). Stirring is continued, with heating if necessary, until
the reaction is complete. A simple filtration then affords a solution from which the
products are recovered by solvent evaporation. Some reactions result in the evolution of
NO and must be carried out under a fume hood.
A. Corndlis et al.
Oxidation of alcohols
'Clayfen' converts alcohols into carbonyl compounds under mild reaction conditions
(Cornblis & Laszlo, 1980). The overall reaction is best represented as:
3RIR2CHOH + 2H § + 2NO~- ~ 3R1R2CO + 2NO + 4HzO
With the exception of primary alcohols, which result in complex mixtures, excellent
yields of carbonyl compounds are obtained (Table 2), with a remarkable absence of other
oxidation products in the case of benzyl alcohol.
From a mechanistic point of view, we have demonstrated (Corn61is et al., 1982) that
nitrous acid esters are intermediates of the reaction, which involves at least the following
two steps:
R~R2CHOH - , R 1 R 2 C H N O
(step 1)
(step 2)
The 'clayfen' reagent is essential in the first step; control experiments wRh ferric nitrate
alone, or with the association of K-10 and another nitrate (NaNO~ or NH4NO ~) show
little or no reaction.
TABLE 2. Carbonyl compounds from alcohols (Corn61is & Laszlo,
Carbonyl compound
Isolated yield
* From the mixture of epimeric alcohols
Organic syntheses with clay
In the second step, control experiments demonstrate that the K-10 clay alone is
sufficient to promote the reaction. These experimental observations are accounted for
fairly well by a mechanism analogous to that proposed by Barton et al. (1967) for the
acid-catalysed decomposition of alkyl nitrites:
R1RECHONO + NO + ~ R1R2C'~
I~' "NI
--, RxR2C = O + H + + 2NO
Study of the nitrites formed from cis and trans 4-t-butyl-cyclohexanols or from
optically-active 2-octanol shows that the first step is stereospecific, with retention of
configuration of the starting alcohol. Such behaviour suggests that 'clayfen' acts as a
source of nitrosonium NO + ions.
Organic nitrites are also key intermediates in the Barton reaction, an important process
in steroid chemistry (Barton & Beaton, 1961). Since our preparation of nitrites using
'clayfen' is so convenient, this remote functionalization reaction becomes a prime
candidate for extension of our work.
Oxidative coupling of thiols
In order to test the nitrosating abilities of 'clayfen' we have investigated its efficiency in
the coupling of thiols into disulphides. A priori, two pathways, at least, are possibilities in a
'clayfen' environment: (i) oxidation by Fe 3+, a well-documented reaction (Capozzi &
Modena, 1974), (ii) conversion to thionitrites, with subsequent homolytic decomposition,
according to
RSH + NO + -, RSNO + H +
RSNO -, RS" + NO
2RS" -, RSSR
or some variant of this scheme (Van Zwett & Kooyman, 1968; Barrett et al., 1965; Oae et
al., 1977; Aldred et al., 1982).
When 'clayfen' is added to a hydrocarbon solution of a thiol, an intense colouration
develops which is indicative of thionitrite formation. A sudden evolution of nitric oxide
follows, accompanied by discolouration. Work-up affords the expected coupling product,
with fair to excellent isolated yields (Table 3).
The intermediacy of the thionitrite was unambiguously established for the reaction of
triphenylmethanethiol: the corresponding thionitrite was identified and its quantity
determined in the quenched reaction medium by UV spectral analysis. It represented a
significant fraction (10%) of the starting thiol. Moreover, an authentic sample of this
thionitrite (Van Zwet & Kooyman, 1968), exposed to 'clayfen', was coupled into the
corresponding disulphide.
These arguments, even if they do not preclude the possibility of a competition from Fe 3+
oxidation, establish undoubtedly that the thionitrite route contributes significantly, if not
A. Corndlis et al.
TABLE 3. Disulphide from thiols and
thiophenols (Corn61iset al. 1983).
(4 NO2C6H4S)2
(2,4,5 Cl3C6HzS)2
(n C4H98)2
(/ C3H78)2
(t C4H95)2
Isolated yield (%)
solely, to the observed coupling. This conclusion is also consistent with the original
hypothesis: in this reaction, forming disulphide from thiols, 'clayfen' appears again to serve
as a source of nitrosonium NO + ions.
Nitration of phenols
The coexistence in 'clayfen' of the ability to produce nitrosonium ions, and a significant
concentration of nitrate ions suggests that it may, to some extent, mimic the properties of
NzO 4, via the coupling (Oae et al., !977):
NO + + NO]- = N 2 0 4
N204 is known to effect nitrations (Ross et al., 1980; Riebsomer, 1945). Moreover,
there is a constant interest in the chemistry of nitrogen oxides as substitutes for highly
corrosive reagents such as hot mixtures of nitric and sulphuric acids, as used in industry.
Such reagents are costly both in terms of energy and of capital investments (Audley et al.,
1982; Seifert, 1963). We therefore decided to explore the potentialities of 'clayfen' for
nitration of aromatics such as phenols, a most important process, for which there are yield
and selectivity problems (Ouertani et al., 1982). Our preliminary results (Table 4) indicate
that 'clayfen' carries out efficient mono-nitration of various phenolic derivatives, with, in
some examples, remarkable regioselectivity.
It should be noted that in toluene, in which it is insoluble, ferric nitrate is not a nitration
agent unless it is associated with the clay. So, whenever it is possible to use that peculiar
solvent, we can obtain excellent yields coupled with a remarkable ease of work-up.
Synthesis of porphyrins
This application of 'clayfen' belongs in a different category to those just described. It
illustrates the remarkable versatility of this new reagent. The idea of using 'clayfen' for
such a purpose arose from linking several facts.
1. The reaction of equimolar amounts of pyrrole and benzaldehyde on the surface of
montmorillonite, in various cationic forms, leads to a strongly adsorbed
porphomethene, from which tetraphenylporphyrin may be obtained by desorption and
aging (Cady & Pinnavaia, 1977). According to our own experience, the desorption is
extremely difficult to achieve, and this precludes, in the present state of the art, the use
of this method for preparative purposes.
Organic syntheses with clay
TABLE4. Nitrophenolsfrom phenols. Solventused in parentheses.
Isolated yield (%)
39 (ether)
36 (toluene)
41 (ether)
27 (toluene)
CH 3
0 2 N ~
58 (ether)
20 (ether)
34 (ether)
88 (ether)
- - (THF)
65 (toluene)
2. In the presence of montmorillonite, starting from various forms of tetraphenylporphyrin, the free base may be released in chloroformic solution (Bergaya & Van
Damme, 1982).
3. Adler et al. (1968) have clearly established that the coupling reaction of
benzaldehyde and pyrrole into tetraphenylporphyrin requires an oxidant which, in the
classical acid-catalysed synthesis, is atmospheric oxygen.
Since 'clayfen' combines a clay structure and a high surface acidity with the oxidizing
character of ferric nitrate, we reasoned that it might promote formation of tetraphenyl-
A . C o r n ~ l i s et al.
porphyrin from pyrrole and benzaldehyde, and would release the adduct into the
chloroform solvent.
We did observe that when a chloroform solution of benzaldehyde and pyrrole was
treated with 'clayfen' a complex mixture of pigments containing ~0.5% (based on pyrrole
starting material) of the expected porphyrin formed within minutes. Fortunately, the
mixture is easy to separate, and the porphyrin is easily recovered, almost quantitatively, by
a non-chromatographic work-up.
While promising, this new method is not yet competitive compared with the classical
synthesis, but we are actively improving it, and are optimistic that we may achieve this
We have presented some examples of the use of clay-supported reagents for organic
synthesis, which reflect current interests of our laboratory.
In our opinion, phase-transfer catalysis by quaternary a m m o n i u m exchanged clays is a
viable and promising process. Nevertheless, the examples to which it has been applied to
date do not allow us to conclude that there is yet a clear-cut superiority over conventional
On the other hand, clay-supported ferric nitrate ('clayfen') shows a surprisingly
widespread reactivity which still remains largely unexplored and almost totally
unexplained. We now plan to use physico-chemical methods of investigation in order to
understand better the properties of this reagent, which mimics to some extent other sources
of nitrosonium ions. These studies will be done in parallel with other investigations of this,
and other clay-supported reagents.
Contributions by N. Depaye, A. Gerstmans, P. Y. Herz+ and J. Schrijnemakers to the results described
hereabove is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank the 'Programmation de la PolitiqueScientifique,Brussels,
for generous financial support (action concert~e 82/87-34), and the 'Fonds National de la Recherche
Scientifique',Brussels, for help in purchasing an HPLC chromatograph used for this work.
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