Intricacies of Cation–Anion Combinations in Imidazolium Salt-Catalyzed Cycloaddition of CO2 Into Epoxides
The cycloaddition of CO2 into epoxides catalyzed by imidazolium and related salts continues to attract attention due to the industrial importance of the cyclic carbonate products. The mechanism of the imidazolium-catalyzed transformation has been proposed to require the participation of the acidic C2 proton. However, other simple salts without acidic protons, such as N,N,N,N-tetrabutylammonium chloride, are also efficient catalysts for the reaction. Hence, we decided to investigate the role of the ring protons of imidazolium salts in this reaction. To this end, we systematically studied the catalytic activity of a series of methyl-substituted imidazolium cations, in the presence of various halide anions, both by experiment and in silico. Our results demonstrate that, while stabilization of intermediates by C2, C4, or C5 protons in imidazolium salts takes place, it is the nucleophilicity of the anion that governs the overall activity, which is intimately related to the strength of the interactions between the cation and anion. Consequently, the reactivity of the halide anion strongly depends on the nature of the cation and cosolvents. This study completes the (known) mechanism and should facilitate the development of highly efficient catalysts.